Earlier this year, it was announced that Bill and Melinda Gates would be divorcing after 27 years of marriage.
However, unlike many high-profile divorces in the US which involve bitter disputes and court litigation, the couple have reportedly signed a ‘separation contract’. This outlines exactly how their estate will be split, including their property, business interests and joint assets. The main residence that the couple own is said to be worth at least $127 million.
Signing this sort of agreement helps to remove the animosity and conflict which occasionally comes with separation. For divorcing couples in the UK, this is becoming the norm rather than the exception, especially as there are several collaborative options available.
Here, we outline some of the ways couples can separate amicably in the UK, reducing the potential for court proceedings in much the same way as Bill and Melinda Gates.
How can a couple organise a separation out of court?
A Separation Agreement/Deed of Separation
A Separation Agreement, also referred to as a Deed of Separation, helps couples to untangle their lives and separate their assets without formally bringing their legal relationship to an end.
They are legal documents that are put in place when a couple are not ready, or are simply not in a position, to get a divorce or civil partnership dissolution.
An agreement will likely cover a range of matters, including but not limited to:
- How the rent or mortgage will be paid
- How household bills will be paid
- How debts will be organised
- Who lives in the family home
- What happens to your savings and investments
- Spousal Maintenance Agreements
- Child Maintenance Agreements
Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements
Prior to getting married, couples have the option to sign a prenuptial agreement (prenup), which provides protection for the future.
Prenups are documents which couples enter into, setting out exactly what will happen in the event that the relationship breaks down in the future.
There are a number of reasons why making a prenup is seen as a viable option for many couples. As increasing numbers of couples are marrying latter in life, or are remarrying, it is more common to enter into a relationship having already accrued property and savings, as well as having obligations towards children. It therefore makes sense to want to make sure these assets are fully protected.
Prenups are not strictly legally binding, but they do hold significant weight in court, so long as certain requirements are fulfilled.
Postnuptial agreements (postnups) are essentially the same as prenups, with the only fundamental difference being the point at which it is created. A postnup is created after a couple have married or entered into a civil partnership.
If a couple intends to get a divorce or civil partnership dissolution, and they do not already have an agreement in place, then using mediation could help to save the time, stress and cost associated with court litigation.
The mediation process involves both parties sitting down with a neutral mediator, who will help them to discuss what they both want to get out of the divorce, as well as making practical arrangements moving forwards.
A mediator will strive to provide a safe environment for a constructive dialogue between both parties and will not give advice or express certain opinions that lean towards a specific outcome.
The ultimate aim of mediation is to reach an outcome that is in both parties’ best interests, as well the best interests of any children involved in the relationship. If a resolution is reached via mediation, an agreement can be made legally binding by applying to court for a consent order.
Do you need advice about divorce or separation?
At Preston Redman, we have a dedicated team of divorce and separation solicitors who have specialist experience in helping couples to reach out of court agreements.
Our family lawyers service clients across Bournemouth, Poole and the wider Dorset area, with our main aim being to reach an agreement that does not stir up any unnecessary conflict with your partner. We are members of Resolution, an organisation of family lawyers who are committed to constructive family law resolutions.
Our head of Family Law, Tim Flower, has particular expertise in taking a constructive approach to family law matters and is an accredited specialist of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel.