Separation Agreements and Divorce
It was announced earlier this year that the divorce between Bill Gates and Melinda Gates had been finalised, ending their 27 years of marriage. News of the separation first surfaced in May this year, with reports the couple had already signed a separation contract outlining how their estate would be split, agreeing on how to divide property and assets. However, the couple did not sign a pre-nuptial agreement before their wedding in 1994.
Details of the agreement were not disclosed in the final divorce order, and no judgements were issued regarding money, property or spousal support. However, the court said the couple must comply with the terms of the separation contract.
Whilst the divorce has been finalised, they have pledged to continue their philanthropic work together, which includes the running of one of the world’s largest private charitable foundations, the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
According to Forbes, Bill Gates, 65, is worth $124bn (£89bn), making him the fourth wealthiest person in the world. Whilst this makes his recent divorce more unusual due to the size of their estate, the principles of trying to put in place an amicable solution for divorcing couples are the same, and common areas for concern will be:
- care of the children
- living arrangements
- finances generally
Financial Agreements in Divorce
Under UK law, a separation contract, similar to that mentioned in the Bill and Melinda Gates divorce, is technically not legally enforceable. However, it is possible to put in place a financial settlement agreement or consent order. In this article, we look at some of the most frequently asked questions regarding financial settlements and divorce and how our team of family law specialists can help you.
What is a financial agreement?
To set out the financial commitments between you and your former partner, including matters such as child maintenance and how debts will be paid moving forwards, you will need to have in place a financial agreement that sets out these obligations on divorce. Once approved by the courts, this is a legally binding document – a consent order – that records with the court the agreement reached between the separating couples regarding the resolution of their matrimonial finances.
How are consent orders or financial agreements put in place?
Typically, the quickest route to achieving a settlement will be through mediation (where a neutral third party will facilitate the conversation to reach a settlement). Alternatively, both parties can agree to fully disclose their financial circumstances so that each can receive specific legal advice before voluntary negotiations. Your family law solicitor will offer advice on the most appropriate solution for you and your family, discussing the various options available to you.
Do you have to go to court to reach a financial settlement?
For the settlement you have reached to be legally binding, the consent order must be sealed by the court.
Before the consent order can take effect, the court order will need to be filed with the court, and it will be subject to a Judge’s approval. A family law solicitor can assist you with negotiations with the other party and draft a consent order for filing with the court.
If the Judge is not convinced that the agreement you have reached is fair, he/she could ask you to revisit the terms of your agreement.
However, if parties cannot reach an agreement either between them or with the assistance of solicitors, then the only other way that the finances can be dealt with would be to apply to court.
What is a Clean Break Order?
A clean break order is when a separating couple wish to be financially separate after the divorce. This means that neither party will be able to make a financial claim against each other in future after the divorce is finalised. Couples need to be aware of the implications of such an order and therefore, it is always recommended that you discuss any matrimonial financial matters with your solicitor, who will be able to ensure you fully understand your legal rights and the options available to you.
Expert Financial Settlement Solicitors
Regardless of how complicated you think your situation might be, we have the expertise to assist you with all areas of family law and matrimonial finances. Our expert family lawyers can advise you on all divorce and separation matters including:
- The Divorce Process
- Financial Matters
- Child Matters
Please contact our divorce and separation team on 0800 103 2600 or make an online enquiry and someone will get back in touch.