Easter is usually a time for new life, new beginnings, fresh chances. This year, however, Easter came early, and brought with it hail storms and hurricane Katie. Pasty and shivering, we’ve emerged into the so-called spring sunshine, filled not with joy at the sight of nodding daffodils or fluffy white clouds scudding across a newly washed blue sky, but instead with bitter disbelief that it’s another four months before the summer holidays begin.
And yet, for some, the next four months will fly by, because the wedding season is on the horizon, and, while the rest of us cannot imagine how we can possibly survive for that long without a holiday, those who are preparing for their summer nuptials wonder how on earth they are going to get everything ready in time for their big day.
I’m not talking here about the dewy-eyed innocence of young love, when a joyful summer’s day is filled with confetti and hope. You’ll forgive me, I hope, when I say that’s not really my line. No, what I’m talking about is the sort of love that comes later in life, perhaps when you were least expecting it. You’re older, you’ve lived on your own for a while, you weren’t really looking for, or expecting, love. Or perhaps you fell into it, or ran towards it, or ran away from whatever went before.
And here you are, in the last few months before your wedding, contemplating your new life, ticking off guest lists, gift lists and financial remedies.
You are divorced, right? You did sign the application for decree absolute, right? Yes, here it is – you’re definitely divorced. Phew, so that’s ok then. Back to the lists.
What your solicitor told you was that, once remarried, you will lose all right to apply for financial provision
But no. Remember what your solicitor told you when you applied for decree absolute? Or perhaps you didn’t have a solicitor, and just did your divorce yourself. (After all, it’s not rocket science. Apparently, it’s just a clerical process, and may soon be carried out by computers. But that’s a whole other subject.) What your solicitor told you, or would have done if you had instructed one, was that, once remarried, you will lose all right to apply for financial provision from your former spouse. No house transfer, no lump sum, no maintenance. Nothing.
You’re going to need that gift list.
The law says that:
“If after the grant of a decree dissolving or annulling a marriage either party to that marriage remarries whether at any time before or after the commencement of this Act or forms a civil partnership, that party shall not be entitled to apply, by reference to the grant of that decree, for a financial provision order in his or her favour, or for a property adjustment order, against the other party to that marriage.”
In simple terms, once you’ve remarried, you can’t apply to the court for maintenance, lump sum or property adjustment orders. Somewhat mysteriously, you could still apply for a pension sharing order. Something to look forward to then. Especially if you’re married to a Maxwell. Or a Murdoch.
Property law, as you will find, is as inflexible and unsympathetic as an embittered old lover.
Ah, but it’s fine. You and your former spouse agreed what would happen with the house and the money. You would be keeping the house and your ex would keep the investments. No problem then. Except it is. Even by consent, the court can’t make these orders. The house is still in joint names, you know, and there’s nothing to stop your former spouse relying on property law to force a sale and claim half the proceeds. Property law, as you will find, is as inflexible and unsympathetic as an embittered old lover. You no longer have the protective unpredictability of matrimonial law, and, notwithstanding your needs, your contributions, and what fairness may have demanded, everything must now be divided according to ownership. Oh, and you know you agreed to accept a nice big lump sum from the sale of the business? Not going to happen!
On closer inspection, you find that in your divorce petition, you in fact ticked all the boxes. The law says that an application for financial provision can be made either in the petition itself, or in an answer to a petition, or in Form A. By ticking all the boxes in your petition, you applied for financial provision after all. That’s ok then, so the court can make orders, whether by consent or not. It can make those orders both after decree absolute and after your remarriage.
If you hadn’t ticked the boxes in your petition, but had subsequently issued a Form A, then so long as you had issued your Form A before you remarried, then you would still be ok. You can go ahead with your wedding, even as you look forward to a year of litigation: whilst you and your new spouse enjoy your honeymoon, you and your old spouse can continue to slug it out before the divorce courts.
What if you were not the petitioner? What if your old spouse had applied for the divorce and hadn’t ticked any of the financial provision boxes? As you sit amongst a baffling array of table plans, I’m afraid you’re going to have to add “Issue Form A” to your to-do list. And, given that the local regional divorce centre is currently taking up to 6 weeks to issue applications, you’d better get on with it. So long as it’s issued before you say “I do”, however, then you can continue to argue long after the bouquet has been tossed and the confetti blown away with the autumn leaves.
Sadly, however, you did not issue your Form A before you promised all that you have to your new spouse. As a result, you may have very little to give on this occasion. Your old spouse may or may not proceed with the application made in the petition. You can’t force it. If the application never goes ahead, then once again you would be forced into the arms of the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, who, as observed above, is an inflexible and unsympathetic bedfellow. Either that, or remain in an unresolved legal limbo with your old spouse, your financial limbs entangled in a tired old bed of pleadings and evidence, even as you attempt to commit to a new life.
And let’s not forget our old friends Wyatt and Vince. I think it safe to say that Dale Vince, whilst sitting in his eco-powered castle, planning the guest list for his own happy day, gave scarcely a thought to Old Kathy Wyatt, his former wife, who had had not done him the courtesy either of remarrying, or of having her claims against him dismissed. Now he’s remarried, but she, footloose and fancy free as she is, has ticked all the boxes, and she’s after a piece of his fortune. He is content to admit that he has more than enough money to meet any award that the court might reasonably make, but it seems nonetheless that he would rather spend half a million quid on lawyers’ fees than on his lost lady love. Everyone a winner in this case, then.
What is the moral of this story? It’s not one that blushing bride Jerry Hall or her dashing beau Rupert Murdoch will ever have to grapple with, I’m sure. Not only have they both been round the block enough times to know better, they will also pay for the advice of the best lawyers in whatever land might have jurisdiction should they ever decide their time is up.
The moral is nonetheless quite simple: before you say “I do”; before you book the venue; before you even say “Gosh, look, only four months until our wedding!”, make sure you get that Form A issued (if you haven’t already ticked the boxes). Otherwise, your hope of a perfect settlement – the kind of settlement you might have been dreaming of since the day you said “I’m done” – might last no longer than that faded old confetti, blown away with the autumn leaves.