A Decree Absolute legally ends a marriage in England & Wales but it does not necessarily end your financial commitments to your ex-spouse. Unless you have a Clean Break Order or a Consent Order in place, your ex-spouse can make a claim on your financial assets at any point in the future, even if you acquired the money after your relationship ended.
Divorce Financial Agreements
When getting a divorce you need to agree on the division of property, money and any other assets that you own (either solely or jointly). Some people can reach a decision between themselves and so do not feel the need to involve a Divorce Solicitor.
If there are no outstanding problems to resolve between you and your ex, you can proceed with the divorce process. The final stage of divorce is to obtain a document called a Decree Absolute. This confirms the marriage has legally ended, and once it has been issued each person is free to remarry.
However, when the Decree Absolute comes through, you may think that's the end of it. It's true that you are no longer in a legal contract of marriage. But according to English law, a Decree Absolute does not sever the financial ties between you.
This may come as a surprise and it is something you need to seriously consider before applying for a Decree Absolute.
Financial Claims After Divorce
Even if you agreed on the division of finances at the time of the divorce, unless the agreement has been made legally binding in the Courts, your ex-spouse can make a financial claim against you in the future. There is no time limit in place, so it could be a matter of years before a claim is made.
Often this happens because one person has reflected that the Divorce Financial Settlement was not actually fair, and in fact their ex-spouse should have made more of a financial contribution. They may consider that the divorce was rushed through at the time, and in hindsight feel dissatisfied with the deal that was struck.
Or it may be that one person acquires a considerable amount of money after the divorce, perhaps through business success or an inheritance. If so, someone may make a claim on their ex-spouse's new found wealth – especially if they have been left to raise the children as a single parent.
Consent Orders and Clean Break Orders
The only way to avoid a financial claim being made against you after a divorce is with a Court Order. There are different types of Court Order available, and if you are interested in protecting your finances, you should consider getting a Consent Order or a Clean Break Order.
A Clean Break Order is for people who currently have no assets to divide, but who want to ensure any financial ties are severed. Often people assume because they have no assets they don't need a Financial Order. But what about if you do acquire wealth later on in life? Were this to happen, a Clean Break Order would prevent your ex-spouse from making a financial claim against you. Therefore any money that you develop in the future would be ring-fenced.
A Consent Order does exactly the same but details the assets you currently own and how they will be divided. It formalises your divorce financial agreement, setting out how you are going to split your savings, property, pensions and any other assets that you own. Like a Clean Break Order, once it has been made legally-binding by the Court, your ex-spouse will not be able to pursue a financial claim against you.
Talk to a Divorce Solicitor
Consent Orders and Clean Break Orders need to be obtained before you apply for a Decree Absolute. Even if you feel like a Court Order is unnecessary, it's a good idea to have one in place for security purposes. You may still be on good terms with your ex at the moment, but trust can break down and attitudes to each other may change. Without a Court Order, you face the potential threat of a financial claim in the future, even if you acquired the money after your relationship ended.