Breaking up the family assets when a marriage breaks down

woman removing wedding ring

woman removing wedding ring family assets

There’s a certain amount of confusion surrounding what happens to a family’s assets when a couple divorces – especially the marital home. Although in many cases a couple can come to an amicable agreement about what should happen to the things that they owned as a married couple, in some cases, if there’s a dispute, family law solicitors can help.

The first thing that a couple should do is draw up a list of the assets they have between them. No matter who the the family home is legally registered to, it should form part of that list of assets, if it’s owned by either or both of them.

Any other financial assets acquired during the marriage, and in some cases beforehand, also need to be added to the official list. These include things like bank accounts, any shares or investments and in some cases also the parties pensions, although these may well have to be considered separately from other assets. Decisions about who should benefit from the parties’ pension assets, how much and when can be complicated and decisions may have to be made with help from legal experts, or in some cases the courts.

Equal balance of assets

The starting point for division of marital assets is that there should ideally be an equal split, but a court may decide on a different ratio in some cases. Things that can affect a decision include:

  • the length of the marriage
  • any health issues suffered by either of the parties
  • age of the couple
  • any income or likely income
  • the parties’ individual needs and their ability to meet those needs
  • any contributions they’ve made
  • the age of the couple’s children
  • any difference in income and pensions,

…and any other relevant circumstances.

Dividing up a couple’s assets can sometimes be upsetting and it needs a delicate balancing act. Even if one or more of the factors above applies, it doesn’t mean that there will be an automatic change to the ratio division.

Assets that were owned before marriage or which have been acquired after the end of the marriage won’t immediately be taken into account as family assets, although they may be considered to be relevant to meeting one parties needs in the future.

What happens to the assets where the parties are not married?

It’s a common misconception that people who live together as a couple, even if it’s been for a long time or they have children, have the same legal rights as married couples and civil partnerships.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case under current law. Despite this, claims may still be made using property and trust law, so when you enter into a cohabiting relationship, it’s wise to think about the issues of legal title and the parties’ intentions should anything go wrong. It can be very difficult to prove you have a beneficial interest in property or to show that if jointly owned it should be shared unequally. Again, this is where proper legal advice from a family law expert can help you make the right decisions.

Vanessa Gillbanks

Gillbanks Family Law