Agreeing the content of a divorce settlement can often be a challenge and it’s our job as family law solicitors to make sure that our clients come to a financial agreement that serves their interests and is agreed by the other party. To do this it’s important to have full disclosure from both parties and establish the real value of all the matrimonial assets.
The process of divorce is pretty simple, involving establishing that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and filing the necessary paper work with the court. However, the divorce (the legal ending of the marriage contract) does not sort out any financial claims that the couple may have against each other. This is done separately, although often alongside the divorce process.
Reaching a financial agreement can sometimes be a difficult process. Both parties will feel they are entitled to their ‘fair’ share of the matrimonial assets. One person may want to stay in the house or there may be arguments over how savings and investments will be split. Sometimes one party will want to make a claim against a financial asset, like a pension, that the other party believes is theirs alone.
A family law solicitor will be able to help you unravel the finances and help you reach an agreement. But in order to do so it’s important to understand what assets and liabilities belong to the individual parties and the couple involved. That’s where the Form E, financial statement is a really important tool.
Form E financial statement
A Form E is the official court form everyone is required to complete when financial matters are being dealt with by the court. If you are hoping to negotiate a settlement without going to court it’s a useful tool to highlight all of the elements that need to be considered before you reach a financial settlement. You may find that your spouse’s solicitor suggests exchanging Forms E “informally” (i.e. without the court being involved) and this is not something to be alarmed by.
The form itself is quite large – 28 pages before you start adding on your evidence to support the figures. It will take time to complete, and people sometimes feel frustrated by the depth of information requested. So, it is important to allow yourself plenty of time to gather all you need. The form states what is expected of you in each section, but you will be expected to disclose things like wage slips, bank statements for the past 12 months and information regarding your debts and outgoings as well as savings, investments and pensions. You should not be offended by the requests, as everyone has to provide the same information. Even if you have been apart from your spouse for a long time, they are still entitled to see your financial information and vice versa.
It’s worth knowing that if the court orders you to file a Form E, it is compulsory to do so.
Getting the Form E right – being open and honest
I am sometimes asked by clients if they can get away with hiding information or missing it off the form. This is extremely dangerous. It can lead to all sorts of complications – at best, the Judge will make assumptions that you have been dishonest, at worst, an entire settlement can be overturned in the future if your spouse discovers that you have mislead the court. There is also a serious risk of an order for costs being made against you. So the best approach is to be open and honest.
Besides ensuring that you complete your own form well, you will need to make sure that your spouse has completed their form properly. In the formal legal process there is an opportunity for you to ask questions after exchange of Forms E. It is vital that both parties provide full financial disclosure to ensure that you can both receive proper advice as to where a suitable settlement might lie.
I’ve mentioned the courts a few times here, but there is no need for any court hearings if you can decide a mutually agreeable divorce settlement between you. You may do this by sitting around the kitchen table, or you may choose to negotiate with the support of a family law solicitor but the important thing is that once you have reached an agreement you formalise it in a consent order which needs to be approved by the court to make it legally binding.
Family law solicitor, Burton upon Trent