Divorce brings about huge changes in the lives of those involved, not least the prospect of coming to an agreement on who gets what. I’m going to focus on the key financial issues that tend to arise once the parties agree to separate, assuming they cannot agree amongst themselves and therefore a judge must decide. The general rule is that all wealth generated in the time of the marriage is split evenly. As it may be impractical or indeed impossible to split certain assets in half, the allocation of assets and income is made with a view to reaching a fair all-encompassing overall settlement.
Home and Mortgage
For a married couple with children, the spouse with whom the children live will often be given the right to live in the family home until the youngest child reaches 18 or 23. However, this is distinct from ownership of the home which generally is evenly split – which in turn opens the can of worms as to how the ‘remaining’ spouse can buy out the ‘leaving’ spouse as he/she may not have the funds required or be able to obtain a mortgage.
Investments and Properties
Courts will normally look to enforce the understanding that any investments or other property accrued during the marriage are shared evenly. However any assets inherited or obtained pre-marriage are usually left in the hands of the spouse in question.
The value of pensions accrued within the marriage period are usually split 50:50 by means of a Pension Adjustment Order. As pensions have many different structures and benefits, this can be a complicated process – particularly if the pension is physically rather than nominally split.
The aim of support payments is to ensure the standard of living of the children (and to a degree the spouse) is maintained. In a voluntary agreement, payments received are free of tax. If it’s by court order, the spouse making the payments can claim tax relief while the other spouse is liable to the marginal rate of income tax. Child maintenance for children is tax exempt and must be paid until the child is 18, or 23 if he or she is in full time education.
Irish courts are not obliged to enforce pre-nuptial agreements after couples separate. They are not illegal as such and the courts may use them as a guide, but adherence to such agreements is not guaranteed as they are not legally binding.
I must stress that I’m only looking at a big picture ‘usual scenario’ above – every case is different and independent financial and legal advice is of course advised. And do have a read of this guide from Citizens Information on Separation and Divorce.