Divorce through the ages

Does it make a difference how old you and your spouse are when you get divorced? The answer is likely to be yes.

Getting divorced in your twenties

If you are divorcing in your 20’s and have no children it is the most likely financial outcome that each of you will retain those assets that you brought into the relationship and divide equally between you assets that you have acquired jointly. This could be relevant if only one person had significant savings and the other had none. The longer a couple are together the less likely that the initial contributions are to make a difference to the financial outcome. However, if one person is in financial need, for example, having given up their own job to support the other (possibly living in another country or different part of England) this will make a difference. The Court will then need to consider what would be a fair outcome taking into account decisions made within the marriage.

If there are children they are likely to be very young. The outcome would then be significantly different. If a property has been purchased in joint names, with a mortgage, the person moving out can find they are tied into that property and possibly that mortgage until the child who may only be two or three at the time reaches 18 or completes their secondary education. This does not mean that they will lose the value of the asset but they may not receive it for many years.

Getting divorced in your thirties

Even if a couple are in their 30’s it is still possible for the Court to make an Order that one party to the marriage should pay maintenance to the other for what is known as Joint Lives. This means until either the person paying the money or the one receiving it dies. We are now seeing significant changes in the approach to maintenance. Although there is no change to the law itself (divorce comes under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973) case law is moving away from these Joint Lives Orders and moving a little more to be in step with other countries with maintenance for a limited period. However, it is still an important factor to be considered if say, mother is in her late 30’s, gave up work over 10 years ago or more to look after the family and particularly if she has health problems which impact on her ability to be self-supporting.

Getting divorced in your forties

At this age, children may be in their early teens and this can be a particularly difficult time for resolving the arrangements for how the children will spend their time with each parent. Early teenagers can have very strong views in terms of black and white and can be quite hostile to either parent. They can often find it easier to place their loyalties entirely with one parent and be wholly critical of the other. This can mean, say a 13 year old, saying categorically that they do not want to see the other parent. It is particularly important with children in this age group for the parent who is leaving the family home to maintain their relationship with their children as this can be difficult if the parent remaining is emotional and angry towards the departing parent and is expressing that to the children.

Getting divorced in your fifties

A couple in their 50’s are often at a stage when their children are over 18 but may still be in tertiary education. It is possible for a Court to order one of the parents to pay money to the other for children over 18 whilst they complete tertiary education but it will depend on all of the circumstances and is not the same situation as a parent being expected to provide support for a minor child. In certain circumstances it is possible for children in tertiary education to make their own application to the Court for financial support whist they complete their education. Even if this step is legally possible it is a step that few children want to take. Difficulties at this stage can also occur if one parent (more usually the mother) wants to continue providing financial support, particularly a home for adult children. The husband may not feel the same and believe the children should be independent and that the family home should be sold and he and his wife obtain smaller accommodation which does not necessarily have enough room for adult children.

Getting divorced in your sixties

Pensions are a significant factor here. If pension has already been taken it is more likely to be treated as income rather than a pension fund although it is still possible for the Court to make Pension Sharing Orders. The difficulty can be that there is very little time, and often no time at all, for either a husband or a wife to make payments into a pension to replace sums that have been shared with their former spouse. If one party to a marriage is considering divorce but has not yet mentioned it to the other and, at the same time, the other person is on the cusp of making a decision to retire, it is very important for legal advice to be sought at that stage as a divorce before retirement could be significantly different in terms of financial outcome.

Mortgages, there can also be difficult if there is not enough money for each party to buy, mortgage free, a separate property. The lending market varies and couples are advised to seek specific advice in relation to their mortgage capacity but they may find that they cannot get a mortgage extending beyond their 65th birthday (either at all or with only limited choice) and as there is a very short mortgage term the payments will be much higher.