Divorces in the UK can be either contested or uncontested, with contested divorces often involving complex considerations such as financial settlements and child support. However, in this article, we will focus on the concept of clean break agreements or clean break orders, which are considered the cleanest form of divorce in the UK. These agreements provide a straightforward and comprehensive resolution, allowing both parties to move on with their lives without ongoing financial obligations. It’s important to consult with a family law solicitor who can guide you through the process and ensure that your rights and interests are protected during the divorce proceedings.
What is a clean break?
In simple terms, a clean break is an agreement that allows a divorcing couple to officially end the marriage with no financial ties, thereby becoming financially independent of one another. Instead of the continued spousal maintenance that’s common with most divorces in the UK, if your financial situation allows it, you could as well consider a clean break settlement, where both of you go separate ways with no financial commitments to each other. However, even in such a case, you will want to ensure that the clean break agreement that you enter into with your partner covers all the key issues, and should be made legally binding, which is where a clean break order comes in. Without this order, your ex-spouse can still make a financial claim against you at any point in the future.
How does a clean break order work?
Basically, clean break orders are given to officially and legally end all the financial commitments, which includes all assets such as property, maintenance, savings as well as pensions, between a couple that’s divorcing. In a clean break order, the court does consider quite a number of things, with the most common being how the assets will be split, and if there will be a requirement for spousal maintenance, the court will most likely implement fixed term payments, meaning that the payments will be made for a specified time period, after which they will automatically stop. So, in this order, any ability for an ex-spouse to benefit from financial maintenance from a former spouse will be removed.
What is covered in the order?
As we mentioned earlier, a clean break order does take into account all assets and income belonging to the divorcing couple, and it aims to not only end the financial commitments legally but also balance the interest of both parties. And as such, the less wealthy partner, or better yet, the one who did make all the sacrifices, career-wise, to take care of the home and kids, is entitled to quite a significant share of the assets, almost half actually. This is something that will be covered very well in a clean break order. The other thing that will feature in the order is how much each of the partners is entitled. For instance, the issue of the family home is one that tends to be very contested in any divorce. So, in a clean break agreement, the partners may agree that one partner remains in the family home with the kids, while the other partner receives a corresponding lump sum amount or other assets.
This extends to pension entitlements, which are a valuable asset in a marriage, and must be taken into account in a clean break agreement. You can either agree to split the pension fund, or one partner can keep the fund, but then pay the other partner a substantial amount or other assets. You must also cover any debts you might have, because remember, the aim of the clean break is to ensure that both of you are financially independent, and this can’t happen if there is a joint debt available.
Lastly, the clean break agreement must conclude by stating that neither partner will be able to make any financial claim in the future against the other.
Why is necessary to have a clean break order?
When a divorce is coming to a conclusion, a decree absolute is issued, which implies the legal end of the marriage, but this doesn’t at all mean that all your financial commitments end. So, to end these commitments, you will need to apply for a clean break order after decree absolute. For people trying to minimise the cost of a divorce, many might question the importance of applying for a clean break order, as it might add to their divorce costs. But the truth is, the fact that it will be helping you become financially independent from your ex-spouse, is something that you can’t afford to ignore. After all, don’t you think it’s a much better option than continuing to pay spousal maintenance even after the marriage comes to an end? In fact, for some couples who have had a rough marriage, becoming financially independent after the marriage ends is emotionally preferable. So, a clean break order can be very necessary to any divorcing couple.
Does the length of the marriage impact the possibility of a clean break consent order?
Yes, it can! The fact is, when it comes to contested clean break agreements, the court does look at short and long marriages differently. And for the purposes of clean break orders, if you didn’t live together before the marriage, and let’s say, you were together for less than five years, the court will deem that as a short marriage. But if you lived together prior to the marriage, and have had a marriage that lasted for more than five years, the court will see it as a long marriage. Now, for short marriages, the court might decide that each partner gets what each brought into the marriage, which is most certainly the most straightforward option in a clean break order. Each partner will be required to provide documents outlining their assets before they got into the marriage. For long marriages, a clean break order might involve a little more, as the spouses will need to come to an agreement on how they will share the assets they acquired in the marriage. After they reach an agreement, they will then sign a clean break order stating that none of them will ever claim anything from each other in the future. But if they don’t reach an agreement, the court might apply the matrimonial law in deciding who gets what.
What happens if an ex won’t sign a clean break order?
Ideally, in amicable separation situations, both spouses are able to discuss how they are going to share their finances and assets, and will usually come to a mutually satisfying agreement. But, we have to admit that splitting assets always tend to breed more conflict, than any other part of the process, and you may find that one partner refuses to sign the clean break order, probably because of something he or she doesn’t agree with. When you are in such a situation, there are a few steps that you can take so as to resolve the standoff. They include;
- Mediation – the very first step you would want to take is mediation, where you will involve a third party to try and aid the discussions between the two of you. You can use mediation both when splitting assets, and also in other matters such as child custody and so on. Of course, you can seek guidance from the courts when trying to reach an agreement. Mediation will, however, not be required in cases where there is domestic abuse.
- Solicitor to solicitor negotiations – let’s face it, when a relationship/marriage ends, there often remains some residual conflict or resentment that would directly hinder fruitful agreements, as it could turn any conversation into an argument. So, if you are in such situation, the best idea would be to negotiate through your divorce lawyer. Your spouse will also hire his or her solicitor, and now both solicitors will negotiate the settlement, of course, in the best interests of their respective clients. This way, an agreement might be reached that both you and your partner are in agreement with.
- Collaborative law – if solicitor-to-solicitor negotiations don’t go through, you can have four-way meetings between the two of you together with your solicitors. The presence of solicitors in these meetings will help in putting emotions in check between the two of you. This way, you might reach an agreement that you are both happy with.
- Ancillary relief order – if you still can’t reach an agreement, and your ex-partner still refuses to sign a clean break agreement, you can go to court and have a judge settle the matter for you. If the partner is still adamant about signing the clean break order, you can ask the court to approve your clean break consent order. This is something we call an ancillary relief order, which involves a solicitor and a barrister, meaning that it might be a little expensive. But the good thing is that with this method, the court keeps a very strict timeline to solve the case, and it doesn’t necessarily require your ex-partner’s cooperation to be solved.
It is highly recommended that you try to exhaust all the other options when trying to reach an agreement with your partner before going to court. This way, you will be able to have a fair division of assets, and you will also maintain an amicable relationship between you two even after the divorce.
How can you apply for a clean break order?
If you want to apply for a clean break order, you will first get a qualified divorce solicitor who will be the one to draft the application for you. Then, both you and your former spouse will need to sign it and then sent it to the court for approval. In this case, you won’t need to go to court in person. Once it has been received, the court will then sort it out and then send back the approved sealed order. This is of course in cases of uncontested clean breaks. If there are disagreements, the court will apply its wisdom as per the law to deal with the case before it sends back a clean break order.
As you have seen, getting a clean break order is not as hard as people always thought. As long as your ex-partner is collaborative, getting such an order is pretty easy. All you need to do is to reach an agreement with your partner when it comes to splitting of assets and incomes and then have a solicitor draft the application for you. But even when your former spouse isn’t as collaborative, you can always apply to the court for it to intervene and resolve the standoff, which it does regardless of how collaborative is, or not. But at all times, before you have the court intervene, you should try first all other mediation options to reach an agreement.