THE BLOG

Why You Might Not Get the Kitchen Sink in a Divorce

22/12/2015 11:22 GMT | Updated 21/12/2016 10:12 GMT

There's so much emotion involved in divorce that it almost seems inhuman to start talking about the logistics of separating.

It's normally the case that a married couple's lives are deeply intertwined, so unpicking the stitches feels almost too painful to countenance. But at some point, usually before you've even had 'The Talk', you'll start wondering about who gets what. How much of any house sale will I receive? How do we start dividing physical belongings?

Most people have seen the spectacular fall-out from divorce cases between one impossibly-wealthy person and another, normally with the upshot that one tries to wring as much out of the other as their lawyers can muster. All of which makes for great headlines, but it's not usually an accurate reflection of most divorce settlements.

It's been extensively reported in the press that Liam Gallagher and Nicole Appleton ran up legal bills of £800,000 in their divorce case. The story goes they couldn't agree on how to divide £11 million of assets, so a judge ruled they would have to split the pot down the middle.

In the course of his comments, Judge O'Dwyer said the couple's legal bill had been 'manifestly excessive'. In their case, there was disagreement about the former Oasis singer's shareholding in the fashion label Pretty Green, the value of the former matrimonial home, and the future earning potential of Gallagher and Appleton.

In Scotland, the law on division of assets is very clear - if you know what it says, of course.

What you're trying to divide is known as matrimonial property. Those are the assets you've accrued from the date of marriage until the day you stop living as a married couple. Once those have been identified, they need to be valued. If you have acquired assets by inheritance or gift from someone outwith the marriage, these may be excluded.

If those assets include a home, the balance in a bank account etc, it's normally quite straightforward to have those valued. However, there are some assets which are more tricky to deal with. For example, share options can cause issues, and if either spouse has business interests, it might be necessary to have an accountant provide a valuation.

That total should then be divided fairly which, in Scots law, is usually considered to be an equal split.

There are some circumstances where it might be possible for one partner to argue for an unequal share of matrimonial property; if for example, someone gave up a career to look after children and is now less able to find a suitable job.

Or perhaps one partner had existing wealth before the marriage, which they brought into the relationship.

With so many moving parts, what is ultimately a very clear structure can become a complex and evolving creature. Knowing the law inside out isn't required, but you should aim to be clear, at the earliest possible stage, which assets can be divided and whether there are any complexities you ought to be looking out for.

Philippa Cunniff is partner and head of family law at law firm HBJ Gateley, which has produced a series of videos answering some of the most commonly-asked questions in a divorce.