Over the course of the past three months there have been several important changes in the law relating to divorce both by statute and by case law. These changes alter the position concerning pensions, child maintenance and the division of assets generally. The impact of these changes is likely to be significant and represent the most radical developments in family law in 30 years.
The Welfare Reform and Pension Act 1999 entitles parties who issue divorce proceedings after 1 December 2000 to seek a share of their spouses pension in the same way as any other asset.
In such cases, therefore the Court will now be able to order pension providers to credit a spouse (say a wife) with a percentage share of her husband's pension. Subject to the type of pension involved a wife could be obliged to take her share out of her husband's scheme or leave it in.
The amount of pension which the wife will be entitled to will depend upon a number of factors including its value, the length of the marriage and the other resources available to the parties.
The Child Support Pensions and Social Security Act 2000 alters the method by which the Child Support Agency calculates the amount of maintenance payable for children. Instead of the extremely complex formula used at present, a non-resident parent will have to pay a straight percentage of his net income amounting to 15% if one child, 20% if two children and 25% if three or more. The calculation ignores entirely the circumstances of the parent with care of the children. The new formula is not likely to come into operation before April 2002 but it is understood that there could be pilot schemes operating fairly shortly in certain areas around the country.
Division of Assets
It has long been a misnomer amongst the public that on divorce, assets (particularly those held in joint names) will automatically be divided equally. The reality has been very different with a wife's reasonable needs taking priority over an arithmetic division. This has led to increasing dissatisfaction from wives in "big money" cases who have often received a tiny proportion of their husband's assets.
The position has now been potentially altered by the House of Lords in the recent case of White -v- White. Their Lordships indicated that in certain circumstances equality between parties should only be defaulted from if there is good reason.
This information is necessarily brief and is not intended to be an exhaustive statement of the law. It is essential that professional advice is sought before any decision is taken