‘Money for lawyers’ triggers jump in reopened divorce cases

Topics: Family and children,Courts business

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The number of people returning to the courts to boost their divorce settlements doubled last year – partly because there is more money around to spend on lawyers, according to new data.

Cardiff-based Hugh James, which compiled the figures, explained that many couples fail to obtain a court order to formalise their financial agreement when they divorce. Without such an order severing respective financial claims, an ex-spouse can pursue a case against their former partner.

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There was a significant dip in the number of these cases in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, with only 3,620 financial claims brought outside the divorce process in 2011. Reduced incomes and depressed asset values led divorcing couples to divided up assets informally to keep costs down.

However, Hugh James reports that the number of people returning to court to boost their payout rose from 14,690 in 2013 to 29,060 in 2014 – an eight-fold rise in three years.

Rising asset values, such as property, business or shares, combined with rising incomes may have partly motivated more divorced people to seek a better deal from their former spouse. Many are also said to have more money to spend on lawyers to fight their claims.

The high-profile case in which Kathleen Wyatt won the right to seek money from her ex-husband Dale Vince, founder of green energy giant Ecotricity, 30 years after their divorce, also encouraged more people to return to pursue payouts, the firm said.

Charlotte Lyshon, an associate at Hugh James said: ‘Achieving an amicable agreement without going to court is the ideal outcome – but divorcing couples need to be aware that if they do this without following the correct procedures, then they might not get the clean break that they want.’ 

She added: 'It’s fairly typical for one partner to keep the equity in the family home, while the other keeps their pension intact. A few years later the partner with no long-term savings may come to regret that decision – if there has been no financial order made finalising their financial agreement or dismissing their claims then they can go back to court for a “second bite of the cherry". The publicity around the Ecotricity founder case has certainly served as a warning to people that it is important to tie up loose ends.'

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