What is a financial order?
A financial order is a formal arrangement made in court. Financial orders confirm agreements about money or property between a couple who are ending a marriage or a civil partnership.
A financial order can end in arrangements like:
- one person paying the other a lump sum payment
- transferring ownership of a property from one person to another
- regular ‘maintenance’ payments to help with children or living expenses
- sharing pension payments
Most financial orders can’t be changed once a judge makes a decision. This can only happen if there is a big change in one person’s circumstances or it’s proved that one person lied during the case.
Decisions about financial orders are made separately from decisions about the divorce itself. The process usually takes longer than a divorce – often between 6 and 12 months.
If you and your husband, wife or civil partner can agree financial arrangements, you can make your agreement legally binding. You do this by applying for a ‘consent order’.
Consent orders are likely to cost a lot less and take much less time than other financial orders. You can get help arranging consent orders from mediators or solicitors.
What the court considers when deciding a financial order settlement
A judge will try to look at the whole situation and decide what would be the fairest way to split things up.
If you have children, the judge will put the children’s interests first when considering how to split things. Housing arrangements and maintenance payments for children are the most important elements to the judge.
Once the judge has considered the needs of children (or if there are no children), they will look at issues like:
- how long you’ve been married or in a civil partnership
- how old both of you are
- what they think each of your abilities to earn money will be like when you’ve split up
- property and money you will each have, or expect to have in the future
- what each of you will need financially to live
- the standard of living you had during the marriage or civil partnership and how much it will change
- any physical or mental disabilities that anyone in the family may have
- the sort of contributions each of you made during the marriage or civil partnership (including non-financial ones, like looking after children)
In some cases, if a husband, wife or civil partner has behaved very badly, the judge will also take this into account.
How the court decides on the split
Everyone’s circumstances are different, so it’s difficult to say exactly what will happen in your case.
But the judge will try to decide on the fairest arrangement possible.
In most cases, that doesn’t mean everything is split in half. It’s divided up to try and meet everyone’s needs as much as possible.
If there’s enough to meet everyone’s needs
If there is enough money, property and possessions to meet everyone’s needs, the judge will decide what’s the fairest way to split everything. So, for example, one person may be given the family home, while the other may be given savings and investments.
If there isn’t enough to meet everyone’s needs
If there isn’t enough to meet everyone’s needs, the judge will make arrangements for children first. For example, if one parent stays at home to look after a young child, they may get a greater share of the family home. Or the judge may decide that parent should stay in that home until the child has grown up.
‘Clean breaks’ and maintenance
The judge will also try and make an arrangement that’s a ‘clean break’, wherever possible. This means that everything is shared between you and your husband, wife or civil partner – and you don’t have any more financial arrangements between you.
However, most people don’t have enough money, property and possessions to do this. When this happens, the judge may tell the person with the higher income to regularly pay some of it to the other. This is called a ‘maintenance order’.
Apply for a financial order or making your own arrangements?
It’s always best to come to an agreement with your husband, wife or civil partner if it’s possible. When the court decides how things will be split, it is often final and can’t be reversed. However, some orders can be changed if either party has a big change in their circumstances.
Even when your application for a financial order has started, you can still reach an agreement at any time – and judges will encourage you to.