Our family solicitors are constantly frustrated by misunderstanding and misinformation – much of it I have to say fed by American TV and films and the British media.
If I had a pound for every time someone as contacted my firm believing one of these three most common myths I’d be a rich man.
Myth 1 - Getting a divorce means going to Court.
No it doesn’t. Getting a divorce is a very simple process. You have to file papers at Court certainly – but this can be done via post (not email yet I’m afraid).
Most divorces nowadays are uncontested – that means both parties agree the marriage is over and to be honest getting a divorce is simply about filling in the correct paperwork and getting a Judge to agree that the grounds you have stated are accepted. Again this is a paper exercise. You file the papers, the judge gets to read them and then a response (on a standard form) is returned. At no stage do you or your partner need to step foot anywhere near a courtroom.
I suspect this myth is perpetuated by popular folk law and the kind of ‘I’m going to drag you through the courts and take you for every penny you’ve got’ dialogue you hear on American TV programmes all the time.
And that does lead me to the second and connected one of our top 3 myths.
Myth 2 - Getting a divorce severs all financial ties with your spouse.
I’m afraid not!
It’s certainly true that a good lawyer will advise you to come to a financial settlement with your partner before the divorce is finalised – but the divorce itself does not sever these ties. You need a separate agreement – known as a Consent Order – agreed by you and your spouse to sever the financial ties and ensure you are no longer liable to share assets or subject to their debts.
Now, this is where the courts can get involved. If you are not able to agree a financial settlement between you, and your solicitor is unable to negotiate to get you what you want you can appeal to the courts to make a decision. I’d guess only about 10 – 20% of cases ever get to court – but these are the ones you tend to hear about in the press because these are the ones that involve substantial sums of money and / or celebrities.
The reason this myth is so dangerous is that we get people coming to us who’ve been divorced for 3, 4, 10 years and their ex has suddenly tried to make a financial claim against them. It could be they’ve come into some money or maybe sold a property that they’d lived in jointly. Such claims can be made and can sometimes be very costly to fight.
Myth 3 - As the wronged party I will get financial compensation.
I think this myth in particular emanates from America – where divorce laws are very different. Under English law however it doesn’t matter that your husband cheated on you with your best friend or that you have a list of 50 ‘unreasonable behaviour’ items to pick from as to why you want to divorce your wife.
The law works from two simple standpoints. The first is to make sure any children are taken care of (which often of course does mean that one party is allowed to stay living in the family home, often funded by the other partner) and the second principle is the starting point of a 50/50 split of assets.
Except in cases of extreme misconduct there is no connection between how the finances are split and the behaviour of the parties during the marriage.
If these misunderstandings were set straight in the next soap opera story line about divorce, rather than being perpetuated by them, I think clients would be a lot less stressed about the whole process and might even make better choices as they go through the process of divorce.
So if there are any scriptwriters out there who want to ease the pain for future divorcing couples we’d be happy to help you get the law right and dispel the myths. If you work with couples going through relationship breakdown, or even people getting married we would be very happy to provide training sessions, fact sheets or copies of our Exploring the myths about divorce and separation FREE book.
We want to dispel the myths – help us, please!