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Lawyer reveals divorcing couples’ biggest fears in 2024

Harjit Rait | Family Law Solicitor | Divorcing couples' biggest fears in 2024

A spike in divorce enquiries early in the year is always well-publicised, but although the first few months of the year are often busy, there are now more factors than ever that determine when and how couples will split.

Many lawyers have even nicknamed the first working Monday of the new year ‘Divorce Day’ due to it supposedly being the day when they experience a significant surge of enquiries.

Common fears when divorcing

For many couples nowadays, their biggest fears about divorcing are how they will get back on the property ladder and whether their prenuptial agreement will do its job.

Harjit Rait, a partner in our family law team, said: “We support all types of couples through divorce, from high-net-worth individuals dividing complex assets to couples with more modest assets and couples trying to agree on issues arising from their children or even pet care arrangements.

“There are several points in the year when enquiries spike. These often follow school holidays when couples and families have spent prolonged amounts of time together. Christmas is certainly one such occasion, with the stress, expense and perhaps even the in-laws all creating the perfect storm and widening the cracks in fragile relationships.

“January and February are always two of our busier months. Even though some enquiries are simply people exploring their options, or those looking for guidance on a marriage or civil partnership, for some people, Christmas is the final nail in the coffin for their relationship.”

Prenuptial agreements

Harjit added: “For many, the ‘no-fault’ legislation introduced in 2022, which means married couples can now divorce without assigning blame, has made the divorce process more straightforward but advice is still required regarding resolution of financial matters or arrangements for children.

“The popularity of prenuptial agreements, or prenups, is helping divorces run more smoothly. These are now a big part of our work for those entering both marriages and civil partnerships. Until recently it would predominantly be our high-net-worth clients that came to us for prenups. Typically, these people have businesses, numerous properties, substantial inheritances, family heirlooms and all types of other assets.

“Nowadays however we advise and prepare prenups for all types of couples who recognise that it’s sensible to consider the possibility of the relationship breaking down and organising things from a legal perspective. They’re particularly popular with those who have already been through a divorce, who might want to protect what they fought for the first time round or preserve inheritances for their children from a previous marriage.

“Crucially, a well-written prenup produced by an experienced solicitor in good time will pave the exit strategy out of a relationship and reduce stress and arguments about money. Often the prenup will also keep the divorce out of court, but if it does end up in front of a judge, they will consider a professionally written document that is broadly fair.

“However, if the agreement is poorly drafted or if circumstances have changed significantly since its creation, a court may choose not to enforce it, so prenups can need amending in the same way that you update a will. In most cases managing the process from the outset and thinking about the potential worst-case scenario of a relationship breakdown with a prenup, offers a fast, slick and cost-efficient way to finalise the end of a relationship.”

Home ownership

The cost of living crisis and worries about falling off the property ladder is also a major sticking point for many separating couples but the return of 100% mortgages, such as one recently launched by Skipton Building Society, which even identified divorcees as a key market for the zero deposit mortgage, are making things easier.

Harjit said: “Often upon separation, one party will move out of the family home into rented property and for lots of people getting enough money together for a deposit to climb back onto the property ladder can be very difficult. The cost of living is putting many people off divorcing at the moment. Separating parties are often worried about being stuck with high rental payments and finding and paying for rental accommodation can be a real barrier for some, who would otherwise divorce sooner."

“Marriage breakdowns are often extremely difficult to navigate emotionally, but if people can get the financial and property aspects organised it can make all the difference. Nobody wants to stay in an unhappy relationship just for financial security. I always reassure anyone who feels they must stay together, because otherwise they might never own a home again, that they do have options and the first step is to get considered legal advice.”

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