No Clean Break Order Leads to Thousands of Pounds in Legal Fees

21 August 2018

Failing to sort out financial affairs when you get divorced could cause your loved ones and your ex a significant amount of money and stress after you die, with potential disputes over what should happen to your Estate.

If one particular couple had obtained a Clean Break Order from the Court when they got divorced, there would have been no need to spend tens of thousands of pounds in legal fees.

The House Dispute of Bryan Wall & Christine Munday

A high-profile case that reached the High Court earlier this year demonstrates what can go wrong when couples do not obtain a Financial Order when they get divorced. Bryan Wall and Christine Munday got divorced in 1974, but they didn't settle all of their financial affairs at the time of their divorce. The pair owned a property together, which Bryan maintained and let out for several decades after the couple separated.

After Bryan died, there were disputes as to who was entitled to what share of the property. As the property was owned by the couple as Joint Tenants, Christine was automatically set to become the sole owner of the property because she was the surviving joint owner.

When a property is owned jointly as Joint Tenants, both people own the property as a whole, with neither having an identifiable share. If a property is owned as Tenants in Common, however, each person's share is clearly set out.

In this case, the Court felt that the couple had intended to sever the joint ownership after separation, but they had failed to do. This would have required them to change the ownership of the property from Joint Tenants to Tenants in Common, so that they could outline exactly what each person's entitlement was.

The Court ruled that the property value should be split 50/50 between Bryan's Estate and Christine. However, not everyone agreed with this. Bryan's brother, Alan, was responsible for administering Bryan's Estate. He felt that Bryan's financial contributions to maintain and manage the property for 40 years after the divorce entitled him to a much bigger share of the property. Alan claimed that Bryan's Estate should receive 86% of the property value, leaving Christine with 14%.

This claim was rejected by the Court.

No Clean Break Order

It may have been that Bryan and Christine had an amicable relationship after their divorce, and they may even have made a spoken agreement of what should happen to the property. But as no agreement was ever formally set out in writing, it has now been left to the Courts to determine how the property should be divided.

The couple could have avoided the risk of future disagreements by putting a Clean Break Order in place at the time of their divorce. This is a Court Order with stipulates how matrimonial and individual assets are to be dealt settled after divorce. A Clean Break Order could have clearly set each person's entitlement to the property, taking into account Bryan's future contributions and adjusting his entitlement accordingly. All financial matters would have been fully settled decades before Bryan's death and there would have been no risk of litigation further down the line.

The Court case has caused a significant amount of stress on all sides and has cost tens of thousands of pounds in legal fees. Speaking to the Telegraph about the case, Christine said, "To get involved in litigation is idiocy. Nobody would willingly put themselves through the unpleasantness and costs of litigation. It is best to sort it out when you are getting divorced. It's horrible having to go through everything after all these years."

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