Divorce is an emotionally and financially taxing process, with implications that ripple through individuals’ lives long after the legal proceedings have concluded. In England and Wales alone, approximately 100,000 couples navigate divorce each year, yet only around one-third formalise their financial arrangements through a court order. This leaves a significant gap in our understanding of how the majority manage their finances post-divorce. Enter the Fair Shares research study, a ground-breaking endeavour by the University of Bristol’s Law School that provides a comprehensive look into the financial dynamics of divorcing couples in England and Wales, shedding light on a previously understudied aspect of divorce proceedings.

The Fair Shares study is monumental in that it offers the first nationally representative picture of the financial arrangements made by divorcing couples in these regions. Previous research, primarily conducted through court file surveys, offered only a partial view of the court population. Still, accessing data from the non-court population posed methodological challenges, resulting in limited knowledge about the two-thirds of couples who do not go through court proceedings.

The study arrives at a crucial juncture as the Law Commission of England and Wales undertakes a scoping review of the law of financial remedies. By providing comprehensive data and insights, the Fair Shares study informs ongoing discussions and potential reforms in family law.

Drawing from responses from 2,415 participants who had divorced within the past five years, along with in-depth interviews with 53 divorcees, the study paints a vivid picture of the financial realities faced by divorcing couples. Contrary to popular misconceptions, the findings reveal that most divorcees did not enjoy significant wealth during their marriage. The median value of total assets, including home and pension, stood at £135,000. Furthermore, a substantial portion of divorcees had no assets or assets worth under £500,000, debunking the notion that divorcees are typically flush with wealth.

A notable aspect illuminated by the study is the financial disparities between spouses, particularly regarding income and pension provisions. Wives, especially mothers, were found to be in more precarious financial positions, often earning less and accumulating poorer pension provisions compared to their husbands. This discrepancy in pension value can significantly impact women’s financial security in retirement, particularly if they have taken on the primary responsibility for childcare post-divorce.

Another significant revelation from the study is the unequal distribution of assets post-divorce. While the law allows for broad discretion to tailor financial arrangements according to individual circumstances, the study found that the majority of divorcees did not split their assets equally. Instead, many opted for uneven distributions based on various factors such as need, individual circumstances, and motivations for a clean break.

The study also delves into the issue of spousal maintenance, which has been a subject of much debate in recent years. Contrary to popular misconceptions, only a minority of divorcees reported having spousal maintenance arrangements, and the majority of these were for a fixed term rather than indefinite payments. This challenges the narrative that spousal maintenance provides an enduring ‘meal-ticket for life’ for ex-wives, highlighting the complexities and nuances of financial arrangements in divorce.

One of the most concerning revelations from the study was the lack of awareness and understanding of pensions among divorcees. Many were unaware of the value of their own or their ex-spouse’s pension pot, leading to low levels of pension sharing arrangements. This lack of awareness underscores the need for better education and support regarding pension provisions during divorce proceedings.

In light of these findings, policymakers are urged to focus on enabling and encouraging couples to consider all assets, including pensions, when making financial arrangements during divorce. Rather than imposing rigid guidelines, policymakers should aim to facilitate fair outcomes that reflect the diverse circumstances of divorcing couples.

In conclusion, the Fair Shares research study offers valuable insights into the financial complexities of divorce in England and Wales. By understanding the realities faced by divorcing couples, policymakers can work towards creating a fair and equitable framework that addresses the needs of all parties involved. As discussions around family law reforms continue, the findings from the Fair Shares study serve as a crucial foundation for shaping policies that promote financial security and fairness in divorce proceedings.


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If you would like more details on this or want to discuss your family law matter, please do not hesitate to contact James, Frank, or Evelyn. Paradigm Family Law offers a free initial consultation with a top rated divorce lawyer and our fixed fee solutions cover financial proceedings from start to finish. You can call us on 01904 217225 or email us to [email protected].