Most issues affecting divorcing couples have no relevance to their age whatsoever. However, older generations do have some specific considerations, which do not affect younger divorcing couples to the same extent. Here are 5 tips to watch out for:
Tip 1: Pensions, pensions, pensions
It is vitally important to engage with the true value of your pension benefits, and how they can be shared. This applies across all age groups, but in those approaching or in retirement the pension values are likely to be at a lifetime high and possibly also in payment, an added complicating factor.
The reality is that for many years pensions have not been given the attention they deserve. A survey of all court financial orders on divorce found that only 14% contained any reference at all to pensions, a shocking statistic which led to the formation of the Pensions Advisory Group. The key take away is this: you are very likely to need an actuary to report on how best to divide your pension assets, to ensure the division shares the benefits and not just the cash equivalent value of the scheme.
Tip 2: Budgeting
Again this is a vital piece of work at any age, but a detailed forensic future budget is particularly crucial for divorcing couples when the reality may well be that neither will earn in the future. There is no fail-safe, and what assets and savings there are need to be carefully managed to ensure life-long stability.
Budgeting is boring and detail driven, but it is so important to ensure that once you get to the other side of divorce you can adequately meet your needs. Capitalisation of maintenance (so a lump sum payable upfront rather than a monthly maintenance payment) often crops up in the retiring or retired generations. Again, make sure the rate of return which is being assumed in that calculation is a realistic one.
Tip 3: Adult children living at home
Many adult children are still living at home. This is the product, sadly, of soaring house prices and stagnant wage growth. It can cause a real headache for both spouses on divorce.
Once a child has grown up and completed tertiary education, their needs do not form part of the Court’s consideration, and there is no entitlement to child maintenance. For some couples the financial reality of funding two homes instead of one means they simply cannot afford to continue maintaining an adult child at home, without it significantly and unfairly impacting the quality of life of the spouse taking on that ongoing burden.
This can be a hugely sensitive topic. It is so important not to allow your children to pick sides, or become involved in any conflict. The best way to communicate with your adult children is to put on a united front, hard as that may seem. If the financial reality is that an adult child may need to move out, if you approach that topic together and with the agreed figures to hand, it is much more likely to be a successful transition you all navigate together.
Tip 4: Paying for your children’s divorce
Increasingly, and particularly in our private practices, Harry and I see husbands or wives whose parents are funding their legal fees. Often this is depleting much needed retirement savings, but stems from the fact that legal fees rack up quickly, and the adversarial process and hourly rates make it impossible to predict in advance how high fees will get, or how to cap them.
If you are a parent in that situation do take stock at the earliest stage. The legal process may seem full of jargon and impenetrable at times, but at its core it is just a professional service, and one which you are paying for. Ensure you are fully informed at each stage, as to why a particular step is necessary and how much is likely to cost.
As it is not your divorce, you should hopefully be able to stand back, and take an objective viewpoint in a way your son or daughter may not be able to do.
What is the overall aim? In every case, that can be answered very simply: to reach an outcome which is fair for both spouses and their children. Encourage the couple to engage with services outside the adversarial process, and which can fast-track them to that answer. One Couple One Lawyer services, such as the one we offer at The Divorce Surgery, enable couples to instruct one impartial barrister who advises them both, together, as to what a Court would consider fair. The process is swift, taking only 6-8 weeks and for a fixed cost. We regularly get clients who have started down the adversarial route and need our help to find a mutually acceptable way out.
Tip 5: Finding Hope and Being Kind
In the retired demographic more than any other, a couple’s reaction to divorce can be extremely polarised. If it is your choice to divorce, it can feel like a new lease of life, and it can be hard to hide your relief and excitement about the next chapter.
But if you didn’t choose to separate, the reality can completely wind and deflate you. At a time when your children have left home, it can also feel very isolating. If that is you, know that those feelings are extremely common and will pass. Get support. Friends are great, but that may not be enough. For many clients a divorce or life coach can be an absolute life-line, giving the impartial emotional support you need to find the hope and joy in this next chapter, and embrace the opportunities it brings.
And if you wanted the divorce, and are frustrated at the slow progress, be kind and be patient. You’ve had a lot longer to process this. By giving a little time at this stage for emotions to subside, you are much more likely to be able to negotiate calmly and together about the right financial and legal outcome for you both.
Samantha Woodham is a family law barrister and co-founder of The Divorce Surgery, a unique service which enables separating couples to share one lawyer who advises them both as to a fair outcome on divorce, for a fixed fee www.thedivorcesurgery.co.uk