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Greater clarity on ‘needs’ on way for separating couples

Separating couples will be given clear new guidelines setting out what they should expect when property and income is distributed by the courts, the government has pledged.

When separating couples go through the courts, the court has a wide discretion to decide how their property and income should be distributed, taking into account financial needs. However, the exact meaning of these needs is unclear and there is confusion about the extent to which one spouse should be required to meet the other’s needs and for how long.

Now the Ministry of Justice has asked the Family Justice Council to take forward a Law Commission recommendation, made in a report published in March 2014, calling for written guidance to define and explain financial need on divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership.

Justice Minister Simon Hughes said on 17 April: “We want separating couples to have the best information available to help when they approach the difficult and emotional separation process.

“This new guidance will lead to a better understanding and more realistic expectations of what they will expect to receive as financial settlements and enable swifter and better resolution of disputes.”

The new guidance will be published later in the year. The Ministry of Justice is also currently considering the Law Commission’s report in more detail, including a recommendation to make qualifying nuptial agreements – such as prenups – legally binding. An interim response is due to be published in August 2014.