26 years after a divorce was half completed, and decades after the couple had informally agreed how to split their finances, the husband came to court asking for more financial support from the wife. They had never made their friendly agreement into a binding court order. This case is a stark reminder about how important it is to make sure a financial agreement is made binding at the time. If you do it when you reach the agreement, it is a simple matter. The husband did not win in court but those lose ends allowed him to try and it must have been a very stressful and expensive experience for the wife.
This is a nightmare: after separating, and successfully agreeing finances and putting it into practice, you find yourself in court, years later. The arrangements can be reviewed, and maybe overturned. Without a court order that confirms financial arrangements, the court has the power to change things, and to make whatever order that it considers to be fair and reasonable. When the Court looks at how to divide finances, the key principles are what is fair and should assets be shared equally, taking into account all the circumstances of the case at the time of the hearing.
However, a fair and reasonable agreement made in the past is not ignored. So the recent case reviewed the financial arrangements made at the time, in the mid-1990s. The fact that it had not been made final by a court order is what allowed the husband to bring it to court, but the informal agreement was central to how the Court viewed the husband’s case. The Court felt that the agreement was reasonable and comprehensive. It distributed their limited resources well, offering support for the husband, wife and children and at the time both parties felt it was final. The husband’s case was dismissed but nevertheless it went all the way through the court system.
If you have succeeded in what is usually a difficult negotiation, and you are both agreed how to split the finances, take the next step and formalise your agreement. You should get some legal advice to check that it is a reasonable agreement and that there is nothing that is being left out. It is easy to overlook some things, for example, pensions, the costs of expensive school trips, endowments maturing years ahead. Once you are happy with all the terms, or they are the best you can agree, get it formalised in a legally binding document and sent to Court for approval, to achieve finality. No one would buy a house without exchange of contracts. Splitting finances needs to be as highly formalised as buying property.
If you never did make an agreement, but just carried on year to year, you can still formalise things, perhaps by capturing the working agreement. This can then be made final by sending it to the Court for approval.
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Specialist Family Lawyer and Mediator