The prickly issue of how living with a new partner can affect divorce settlements can vary from case to case and have long-term repercussions on a former spouse.
In divorce proceedings, all ex-spouses are required to be open and transparent about financial disclosures (which include cohabitation) until a financial agreement or order has been agreed by a Court.
This agreement is a contract between the divorcing couple and is invariably made an order of the court. It sets out how any property, finances and spousal maintenance should be shared between them post-divorce.
The Financial Order, also known as a Court Order, sets out the financial arrangements between you and your ex. Approved and issued by a Judge, it makes your terms legally binding.
Here are some examples of how cohabiting with a new partner can impact on financial settlements.
The ex-husband has been the primary earner throughout the marriage while his former wife stayed at home to look after their children. He meets a new partner who owns her house and earns a good salary.
In this case a Court may consider that the housing arrangements of the husband are resolved and may then give a more favourable view of the wife’s position. It could be her entitlement to remain for a period of time in the property or to receive a more generous share on sale.
The husband will also have less housing costs (as he may be sharing these with his cohabitee) and therefore will have a greater disposable income from which to pay maintenance.
A husband and his former wife have undergone divorce and a financial order has been agreed in which she receives maintenance. During the financial settlement process, his ex-spouse fails to disclose that she has been living with a younger man on a low-income.
The Court would need to be satisfied that the wife’s financial situation was much improved by the cohabitee sharing housing costs and she may risk a reduction in maintenance. If the cohabitee was earning a substantial income, this could also have an impact by a reduction in the maintenance.
Complexities arise in situations where, for example, a former husband on a good salary has been cohabitating with a new partner who has four children, one of whom is disabled.
There is a conventional view that first families come first. The husband in this instance was aware of his responsibilities to his first wife and family before he embarked on a second relationship. However, in this case the Court has a difficult balancing act to satisfy the financial requirements of 2 families.
As an ex-spouse you must give a full and frank disclosure of your financial means to your ex and vice versa right up to the point that the Court Order is approved.
If you start living with a new partner before the financial settlement is agreed or have an intention to do so after the divorce – and have not disclosed the relationship or intention while negotiations are ongoing – your settlement can be changed when it is later discovered.
The outcome could result in a change in the terms of the order and the possibility of paying the court costs.
If you are unsure of your position on cohabitation while divorcing, I urge you to seek advice from an experienced family lawyer.
ABOUT PETER JONES
Peter Jones is one of the country’s leading divorce and family lawyers. A qualified Arbitrator and Mediator, Peter set up Jones Myers as the first niche family law firm in the north of England in 1992 and has acted for a string of high-profile clients.
Renowned for his sympathetic approach, Peter is the current chair of Resolution’s Accreditation Committee, a former national chairman of Resolution and a former Deputy District Judge. www.jonesmyers.co.uk