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Increase in Silver Separators

View profile for Julie Bailey
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The first working day of the New Year is dubbed by some ‘Divorce Day’ as solicitors traditionally see a spike in enquiries after the Christmas holidays.

Although the festive period is supposed to be a happy time, spending time together as a family can cause tensions to rise and money worries can often add to the pressure.

However, as the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show, generally the number of men and women getting a divorce  is down; apart from in one age group – the over 50s.

Compared with 2003, divorce rates in England and Wales were higher in 2013 for men and women aged 50 and over and for men aged under 20. At all other ages divorce rates decreased.

A significant reason why we have seen a rise in middle-aged couples separating is the way in which a couple’s pension pot can be dealt with when they divorce. For example the Family Court can now make a pension sharing order (PSO) i.e. can order that funds from one spouse’s pension pot are transferred to the other’s pension pot. Previously a spouse – usually the wife – who may not have worked or may have had a career break which would have affected her pension (if she had one), had to wait until the pension was in payment before anything could be done with it.

Also the new pension freedom rules, which were announced in the March 2014 Budget, and mean that over-55s are able to access their pensions pots without purchasing an annuity, are likely to have an impact in the future because assets that were previously ‘locked away’ may now be available.

The Family Court has for some time now made it clear  that in the case of long marriages – which tends to be the case when dealing with a middle-aged couple and a first marriage – the assumption is that the assets will be split equally rather than an order being made on the basis of, usually the wife’s, reasonable needs. So where a significant asset pot has been built up, the wife can expect to share equally in that rather than getting only what a court considers she reasonably needs. On the other hand, many over 50s are in second or subsequent marriages which are statistically more likely to fail.

Also, by the time people reach 50, their children will have probably flown the nest and many are left wondering if there’s more to life or have invested so heavily in their children emotionally that their relationship with their spouse has been neglected.

The financial aspects of cases where there is a reasonable amount of assets are usually easier to deal with from a legal perspective, although the emotional toll will still be high, than cases where there are dependent children still to consider or a lower level of assets. Where there is not sufficient to support two people living independently the outcome for both can be quite tough to live with. The  particular rules relating to certain pensions – for example the Armed Forces Pension Scheme and the differing way it treats its members and their spouses, i.e. the age at which they can receive their pension – can sometimes require some creative thinking though.

Whatever your age or circumstances, when facing divorce or separation it’s always advisable to use a specialist family lawyer who can guide you through what can be complex issues.

If you definitely don’t want to end up in court a specially trained collaborative lawyer can help you work things out face to face.