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What is a Clean Break Consent Order and why might you need one when you are getting divorced?

Most people don’t realise that although their decree absolute ends their marriage, it does not automatically end their financial ties to their spouse. Financial settlement upon divorce is a separate procedure from the divorce process itself. There is no automatic ‘clean break’ without an order of the court to this effect.

It is essential to seek legal advice from a Solicitor specialising in divorce law at the earliest opportunity in order to understand exactly what a clean break order is and what it would mean for your circumstances.

What is a clean break consent order?

If you are able to reach a financial settlement with your spouse as to how the assets and liabilities of the marriage will be divided, you can ask a judge to make this legally binding. This is known as consent order.
A consent order summarises your financial settlement. A clean break order is something that can be included in the consent order and this will end yours and your spouse’s rights to make any future financial claims against each other.
Normally, it won’t be necessary to attend a hearing at the court to get a consent order approved, provided the agreement reached is fair and the judge is satisfied that you and your spouse have both received legal advice and therefore understand the terms of the agreement you have reached.
A clean break consent order is generally preferred by the court, where possible, as it allows both parties to move on without any ongoing financial obligations to one another. However, it is not always possible, or advisable, to have a clean break from your spouse.

What happens if you do not obtain a clean break consent order when you get divorced?

If you don’t have a clean break consent order, your spouse could go back to court at a later date and ask for more money from you. This usually becomes more probable if you come into money at a later date. For example, your business takes off, you win the lottery or received inheritance.
This came to pass in the notorious cases of EuroMillions winner Nigel Page and the successful businessman, Dale Vince.
In both cases, their ex-wives made applications to the court seeking a financial divorce settlement years after their divorce because of the change in financial circumstances of their ex-husband’s and were successful.
Mr Page had been divorced from many years, when he won £56 million on the lottery. He did not obtain a clean break clause when he had divorced. As a result it was reported that Mr Page made an out-of-court settlement to pay his ex-wife of £2 million.
The same issue arose in the case of Wyatt v Wince 2015. After his divorce, Mr Vince set up a successful company, which was reported in 2016 to be worth circa £57 million. Ms Wyatt made an application to the courts for a financial orders more than 20 years after they had divorced. Ms Wyatt was reportedly awarded a £300,000 lump sum payment.

These cases highlight the importance of obtaining a clean break consent orders upon divorce. Informal agreements are often not enough and leave the door open to potential future claims.
Although a clean break consent order may not be suitable for every divorcing couple, it is important to seek legal advice about whether it is suitable for your circumstances and to talk through your options with an experienced solicitor who can inform you of how best to begin negotiations with your spouse.

What if we don’t have any assets?

As divorce solicitors, we are often asked whether it is really necessary to apply to the courts for a clean break consent order.
Divorcing couples often believe that if there are little or no assets of the marriage when they get divorced, there is no point in getting a clean break consent order.
However, as highlighted in the cases discussed above, if you walk away from your divorce without a legally binding financial court order, you are leaving yourself open to your ex-spouse making future financial claims against you, if you come into money in the future. This is especially so if you don’t remarry.
More and more people are opting to deal with their divorces themselves, without seeking any legal advice and if they have managed to reach an agreement between themselves, it is all too easy to think that it is a waste of money to get the financial settlement they have agreed made into a legally binding order when they get divorced.
However, it can be an expensive decision in the long run if your circumstances were to change in the future as without a clean break order, you may find that your divorce is not as final as you thought it was.

Looking for advice?

Find out more from our dedicated pages: divorce and financial settlement, divorce and splitting assets and divorce and pensions.

If you wish to begin divorce proceedings, or know someone who does, feel free to contact Sweeney Miller Law’s expert team of specialists.

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