Reducing acrimony in later-life break ups
This article was first published in Solicitors Journal on 4 May 2016 and is reproduced by kind permission.
Pippa Allsop wonders whether the increase in 'silver splitters' and cohabiting couples is due to relaxation of social attitudes
The increase in the number of older couples getting divorced was recently commented on by Rosemary Bennett in the Times. The 'silver splitters', as they have been aptly named, seem to be on the rise, leading to questions about why this is so.
A relationship breakdown later in life does not mean a couple has been together for their entire lives, or even for a long time. Many instances might involve those who are ending their second, third, or ?th marriages.
One scenario may lead to the other. The end of a long marriage may result in a new one. The Times cited a corresponding rise in the number of 'silver nups', prenuptial agreements entered into by those who have been through a divorce before and who are looking to preserve pre-acquired wealth for themselves or for their children.
The length of a marriage is one of the factors taken into account when determining the appropriate division of finances on divorce. Put simply, the longer the spouses have been together, the stronger the presumption of a 50/50 split. There is also an increased possibility that there are more assets, acquired throughout the marriage, available for division and a greater chance that assets have been intermingled.
The question of why this is occurring is an interesting and multifaceted one. The Times stated that 'the number of over-60s divorcing their partners hit a 40-year high in 2013'. Perhaps this peak was due to a relaxation in social attitudes towards divorce, as it has lost the stigma that was once attached to it.
It was also asserted that 'the number of unmarried over-65s living together has risen by more than 40 per cent in eight years '. The rise in cohabitation as a family format is not limited to the younger generations.
The increase could indicate that the steady growth in cohabiting couples is not due to a lack of belief in the institution of marriage, but is because of the decline in social pressure not to have relationships out of wedlock, or worse, be left 'on the shelf', as it was with previous generations.
While the trend reflects social change, legislation does not. There is still no such thing as a 'no-fault' divorce, and no law to address the growth in couples cohabiting without marrying.
A study exploring whether break ups later in life equate to a less acrimonious aftermath and legal process would make for an interesting read. I would assume that the level of animosity will depend on the reasons behind the split. Inevitably, both parties drifting apart and reaching a mutual decision to end the marriage will lead to an altogether different result compared to when one person has unilaterally decided to divorce, or where the actions of the parties have caused serious hurt to the relationship.
In all cases, it is for the family solicitors involved to try to reduce acrimony and not inflame the situation. Striking the correct balance between supporting your client and championing their best interests, while being robust when necessary, is the ultimate aim for practitioners, and an approach which will benefit the client overall.