Former Spouses Returning To Claim Accrued Wealth In Post-DIY Divorce Fall-Out

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DIY Divorces Have Left Separated Couples At Risk

The Law Of... DIY divorces

Couples who divorced without legal representation to save money during the recession are now paying the price of failing to agree financial terms, a family lawyer says.

DIY divorces have left separated couples at risk

"During the depths of recession, the lure of a no-frills divorce, completed online for less than £50 prompted a surge in couples going DIY," says family lawyer, Victoria Walker of Simpson Millar.

"But with no legal expertise to hand, thousands of couples made the fatal error of assuming that all ties were cut once the divorce was finalised. That's sadly not the case and the ghosts of marriage past are now coming back to haunt them in rather costly and unpleasant dramas."

This summer, Victoria says she has dealt with a number of cases where a couple with modest assets divorced without making any financial agreements, or signing a consent order. Since then, one party has significantly increased their wealth only to then suddenly receive a financial claim from their former husband or wife for what is legally their share of it.

"Former couples who haven't signed an agreement regarding their finances during the divorce risk having to share any wealth and fortunes accrued since then."

Between 2008 and 2012 590,944 couples in the UK divorced, with the courts indicating a sharp rise in the number of people representing themselves.

"Judging by the number of enquiries we are now getting from people who opted for a DIY divorce during the recession and didn't make any financial arrangements, it is safe to assume that there are thousands of divorcees in the UK who don't yet know that they could be in trouble."

"We have seen examples of former spouses coming back to claim half of the other person's recent lottery win, inheritance or business success. Legally, they are entitled to do that if the couple didn't make formal financial arrangements at the time of the divorce – a rather unpleasant surprise for some."

The realisation that previous joint finances need to be sorted out are often prompted by retirement or grown-up children leaving home.

With property prices going up and a growing number of people reach retirement age, Victoria anticipates a rise in cases involving financial claims from past marriages.

"A couple who completed a DIY divorce five years ago, for example, might have amicably agreed for one party to remain living in the jointly-owned family home. One or both of them have since re-married, and now they finally decide to sell the house and divide the earnings. What they don't realise is that things have just become tenfold more complicated and expensive to sort out than they were at the time of the divorce."

Victoria's advice to anyone thinking of getting married for a second or third time is to make sure all financial ties from their previous marriages have been dealt with professionally.

"People who re-marry lose the right to make a financial claim against their former spouse's assets such as a pension or in the form of maintenance. They only realise this once they have tied the knot and by then, it is too late."

"Anyone who have completed their own divorce should ask themselves if they are confident they addressed the question of financial arrangements. If the answer is no or maybe, they should seek urgent legal advice of someone who can review their situation and advise whether further steps are needed to truly sever all ties."

UK Divorces (Source: Office for National Statistics)

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