If the cold, bleak early months of the year have left your marriage in ruins, you’re by no means alone.
The end of the festive season and the seemingly endless time before spring arrives leave many a marriage trailing in its wake.
The reality is that it’s still far more common for the higher earner in a marriage to be the man. And, as English law sees no distinction between breadwinner and homemaker.
Whether or not you’re the one petitioning for divorce, it’s a good idea to do all you can to coordinate your affairs and look out for your interests. That doesn’t have to mean being underhand or dishonest — just smart.
First off, here are some top tips for when you’re considering divorce or preparing for that eventuality:
1. If you don’t have a prenup in place, consider getting a postnup. This is an agreement that works in the same way but, as the name suggests, is brokered after the marriage. It’s a great option if you’re not quite sure whether or not the marriage can be saved, but you want to clarify where you stand should things go definitively south.
2. Keep good paper records of where money is going. That includes gifts and borrowing money from friends or business associates. Also consider making detailed notes of board meetings at work so that, if called upon, you can discuss your work prospects honestly.
3. Be careful about privacy. Make sure your wife can’t access your emails — especially if you’re receiving legal advice — and don’t leave confidential documents lying around. It may surprise many, but spouses are entitled to privacy within their marriage and it is illegal for one party to access the other’s documents that are hidden away.
4. To avoid ‘honest mistakes’ and misunderstandings, it’s a good idea to mark out your “territory” by having your own files, or even a safe, where you keep such confidential documents. That way it will be easier to know if any privacy has been breached.
5. Avoid taking big steps in your business development, at least while things are uncertain as regards your marriage. For instance, delay loan applications or investment where you will be tempted to “talk-up” your commercial prospects; this could end up being used against you when it comes to financial disclosure later on down the line.
Next up, what should you be doing once divorce proceedings are underway?
6. Be full and frank in your disclosure. This is a legal requirement during financial proceedings in divorce, and though it may be tempting to obfuscate, don’t. You’ll save yourself problems if you provide detailed notes with your disclosure.
7. Remember both upcoming liabilities like tax and credit card bills, contingent liabilities such as tax investigations or capital gains on second homes and to explain anything that’s likely to raise eyebrows with the other side.
8. If your wife has not been working, that does not mean that you need to support her financially forever. In fact, courts like to order ‘clean-break settlements’ if at all possible so that divorced couples are better able to lead separate lives. Think about your wife’s earning capacity and, if you can, argue that she has the potential to support herself after a transitional period.
9. If you own a private company, you may well need to get it valued. Be as proactive as possible and consider drawing up a valuation of your own, with clear, well-argued points. This will help get things off on the right foot. Remember, when doing this, that private share-holdings may be less than their ‘face value’, especially where they’re minority holdings or there are buy-backs etc. in place.
10. Finally, if you’ve been exceptionally successful in your professional life, there could be scope for making the ‘special contribution’ argument. This was applied recently in the much-publicized Cooper-Hohn divorce case, where the husband argued, to some success, that his extraordinary financial genius had been responsible for the couple’s vast wealth and as such his wife should be entitled to less than half.
This may well be a sign of things to come in divorce settlements.
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