Divorce agreements which can go wrong !
Many divorcing couples think that once they have obtained their decree absolute of divorce, and divided their assets, then this will bring to an end the legal obligations that they have to each other. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
There was a high profile case last year, called Briers and Briers (2017 EWCA Civ 15)
Mr and Mrs Briers divorced in 2005 with Mr Briers transferring to his wife the family home, which had an approximate value of £700,000, and providing a lump sum of £150,000 to pay off the mortgage. In exchange, Mr Briers retained his business which he had started, in the garage of the family home in 1998, with the sum of £81. Both Mr and Mrs Briers were full time teachers at the time.
In 2013, eight years after the divorce, Mrs Briers made an application to the court for the financial issues arising out of the earlier divorce to be decided.
The critical factor was that Mr Briers, in the interim period, had managed to transform his fledgling business into a major fashion chain, incorporating well known brands, such as Lambretta and Vision Street Wear, with an annual turnover up to £30 million ! Whilst Mr Briers was building up his fashion empire, Mrs Briers continued to teach and look after the children of the family.
Mr Briers argued in court that there was a verbal agreement between him and his former wife, which provided for him to transfer the family home to her etc, and that he should not therefore have to pay anything more.
When the case reached the Court of Appeal, the court said that there had been no agreement between the husband and wife in 2005 that would prevent the wife from making a financial claim and that whilst the delay on her part was relevant, this did not knock out her claims.
The court said that the wife had continued to contribute, after the divorce, to the family by looking after the children, and this was a highly relevant factor. On this basis, the court agreed that Mrs Briers was entitled to approximately one third of Mr Briers’ current assets/wealth.
The crucial step that a divorcing couple should take, once they have agreed how to divide the assets, is to obtain a court order which confirms that the agreement is in full and final satisfaction of the financial claims of the wife and husband. This will prevent either spouse from being able to go back to court many years later to ask for more money.
Such court orders, known as “consent orders”, are relatively easy to obtain and having one brings certainty that the agreement reached can not be undone many years later.