Divorce is regularly cited as one of life’s most stressful events. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the impact of divorce – especially if it’s particularly acrimonious – affects not only an individual’s private life, but their professional life too. ‘Presenteeism’ can be a particular problem where divorce is concerned, when an individual is present at work yet preoccupied with the issues they face outside. Knowledge of the divorce process itself, as well as the ways in which employers can help, is important for the smooth running of your business and the health and wellbeing of your staff.
The new laws
The introduction of ‘no fault divorce’ has been widely reported. It is hoped that, without the blame game the current process encourages, divorce may become easier for those involved. From an employer’s perspective, it is useful to know what exactly these changes mean and how you can support employees in enabling the process to be as smooth as possible, especially where finances are involved.
Currently, couples must prove their marriage has irretrievably broken down and this must be done by proving one spouse is at fault; reasons could include adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion. However, the new law will only require one spouse (or both if preferred) to make a statement of irretrievable breakdown – no-one needs to assume any blame.
This change undoubtedly bodes well in terms of lessening the acrimony; something that, arguably, the current laws promote. But we shouldn’t be too optimistic about the extent to which these changes will impact the experience of divorce itself – there will still be much scope for acrimony, especially surrounding any children and finances. And it’s concerning finances where an employer can help.
The forthcoming changes will not impact how finances are managed. Couples will still need to exchange financial information and documents which often include requiring information from employers about their salary, any benefits, bonus schemes or even a company pension scheme. Providing any information requested by an employee as quickly as possible all helps prevent the whole divorce process from dragging on for far too long.
In order to do this effectively, it is worthwhile employers appraising themselves of what financial information is required from each spouse. A Form E financial statement, which can be easily accessed via gov.uk, is the requisite form the courts will usually expect spouses to complete. It also makes clear what, if any, supporting documentation is required.
Court hearings and time off work
Deciding how finances are to be managed can take up to three hearings, sometimes more, which may mean both spouses needing to take time off work to attend court. If children are involved and the court is asked to decide how their time is spent, parents will be required to attend separate hearings which, again, can number up to three and sometimes more depending on the issues. With matters concerning finances and children being treated wholly separately, this means there are potentially six or more occasions where a parent going through an acrimonious divorce could require time off work.
Although the new divorce laws have been widely welcomed, we should be cautious about the extent to which they will impact the divorce process itself. An understanding of that process and the important role an employer can play will benefit not just your staff, but your business itself.
Sahil Aggarwal is a specialist in family law at Moore Blatch