Divorce or separation is undoubtedly a very difficult and confusing time. The division of the contents of the former matrimonial home and personal belongings is often an added complication in what is already a stressful and emotional experience, writes Chris Longbottom, partner and head of the Manchester family team at Clarke Willmott.
Contents and personal belongings can be valuable and they may have sentimental value, for instance wedding gifts, jewellery, engagement and wedding rings. Individuals often struggle to agree who should retain items.
The court prefers to avoid getting involved with a dispute over personal belongings on separation or divorce, and parties are usually advised to agree such matters between themselves.
The default position is normally that each individual will retain the contents and personal belongings in their possession at the time. If this is not acceptable to you, a discussion should be had at an early stage, so that terms of settlement can be agreed and approved by the court.
Mediation is a good, cost-effective option to discuss division of assets, contents and personal belongings. If agreement can be reached, this can be recorded in the terms of a legally binding consent order.
The presumption in UK law is that an engagement ring is given as a gift, and therefore the recipient is under no obligation to return the ring if the engagement is broken. However, this presumption can be rebutted if it can be argued that the gift was given on condition of a future event (i.e. marriage).
Pets are part of the family and their welfare is important. However, the family court does not have jurisdiction to make orders about how much time a pet will spend with each person after separation.
Research suggests that one in four divorces involve a dispute over the ownership of pets. It is a good idea to agree in advance who will get custody of the pets in order to reduce acrimony should the relationship break down. This can be recorded in a nuptial agreement such as a pre-nup, post-nup, or cohabitation agreement, which should help provide peace of mind.
Protecting your interests by entering into a marital agreement (a pre or post nuptial agreement) can help avoid a great deal of acrimony if things do not go to plan.
A pre-nuptial contract is recommended for couples who are planning to marry, to help protect inherited or pre-owned assets and avoid costly court proceedings in the event of a separation. It can be used to record an agreement about who will retain jewellery, contents and personal belongings, and how much time family pets will spend with each person.
Although not currently strictly legally binding in the UK; the courts are becoming more and more included to follow the terms of nuptial agreements, provided that:
If parties are already married, a post-nuptial agreement can be used in the same way.
Individuals who live together but do not plan to marry can enter into a cohabitation agreement to record what should happen should they decide to separate. In the event of there not being an agreement in place, the claims for unmarried couples are not the same as for married couples. However, if an unmarried partner has contributed towards mortgage repayments or made other contributions to property owned in the sole name of their partner for instances, then he or she may be able to make a claim for an interest in the property.
If you have already separated but are not yet ready to divorce, a separation agreement can be used to record how assets are to be divided.
In many cases, it takes a major life event like separation or divorce to prompt individuals to think about the merits of putting in place an agreement, by which point it may be too late.
It may not be a particularly romantic topic and a difficult one to broach, but having a discussion at an early stage, and getting an agreement drawn up by an expert family law solicitor can go a long way towards avoiding stressful and costly court proceedings later down the line.