What is a clean break order?
Clean break orders are a type of consent order that divorcing couples can use to separate their finances.
Without a clean break order or a consent order, your spouse could make a financial claim against you at any time in the future.
Both consent orders and clean break orders have the same purpose – to prevent future financial claims on your estate.
What makes a clean break order different is that it doesn’t provide any provisions for ongoing commitments to your ex-spouse. This means that you’re not paying them any spousal maintenance or child maintenance; and you don’t owe them any money if you were to sell your assets.
Why do I need a clean break order?
No divorce is complete without at least a consent order.
If you don’t get a consent order, there’s always the risk that your ex-spouse could make a financial claim against you in the future.
A clean break order goes one step further.
As well as protecting you in the future, a clean break order completely ends any financial obligations to your ex-spouse. This means that you don’t need to pay them any maintenance and neither of you are dependent on the other for financial stability.
There are several high-profile examples of people who came to regret not making a clean break order when they got divorced.
Here’s a look at a couple of examples.
Dale Vince was a penniless new age traveler when he divorced his wife, Kathleen Wyatt, in 1992.
Little did either of them know at the time that Mr Vince was to go on to becomes a multi-millionaire though his green energy venture, Ecotricity.
Unfortunately, the couple divorced without making a clean break order. This means that Ms Wyatt was able to make a claim for £1.9M of Mr Vince’s fortune – nearly 20 years after they got divorced!
They ended up settling out of court for £300,000.
Nigel Page was a property maintenance officer when his wife left him for another man.
As the couple didn’t have any joint assets, they decided not to get a clean break order.
So, when Mr Page won £56M in the Euro Lottery a decade later, Mrs Page was able to threaten legal action to claim some of her former husband’s new-found wealth.
Mrs Page ended up receiving £2M after settling out of court.
These are extreme examples. But they illustrate the importance of making a clean break order as you never know how your financial circumstances may change in the future.
Is a clean break order necessary?
Getting a clean break order isn’t a ‘necessary’ part of the divorce process in the sense that you can still get divorced without one.
In practice, however, clean break orders are necessary if you want to protect yourself against future financial claims against your estate.
As the examples of Dale Vince and Nigel Page show, a former spouse is entitled to make a claim against the other at any time in the future if there’s no clean break order in place.
The only way you can prevent this is by getting a clean break order.
Importantly, you can’t base your decision just on your current financial situation. Instead, you need to consider how your financial situation may improve and how it may encourage your ex-partner to make a financial claim against you.
Don’t think that your spouse would only make a claim against you if you became extremely wealthy. Any improvement in your finances like receiving an inheritance, starting a successful business, or even just getting a higher paying job could encourage your ex-partner to make a claim.
How does a clean break order work?
A clean break order ends all financial ties between a divorcing couple. In essence, you and your spouse both agree to not make any claims against the other in the future.
This means that you’ll need to find a way of splitting your assets, including property, savings, investments, and pensions, in a fair way.
You will have different options when it comes to sharing the various assets.
For example, instead of sharing a pension 50/50, you can ‘offset’ the value one spouse is entitled to by giving them the equivalent amount of money through another asset, like a larger share of any savings.
Does the length of a marriage affect a clean break order?
Clean break orders tend to be more suitable for shorter marriages.
The important thing to remember about clean break orders is that they need to be approved by the court. This means that the court needs to be satisfied that the financial arrangement you come to with your spouse is fair.
However, what’s considered to be ‘fair’ can depend on the length of the marriage.
For example, the court may decide that a divorcing couple who haven’t been married for long could have a straightforward clean break where each person comes away with what they brought into the marriage.
However, this probably won’t be considered appropriate for longer marriages as a couple’s financial situation tends to be more complicated.
Couples in longer marriages often have valuable joint assets, like property and pensions, that require ongoing financial ties to make the financial settlement fair. For example, the house will probably need to be sold.
So, you’re more likely to have clean break order accepted by a court if your marriage was short, and you didn’t build up many joint assets.
The court will consider each clean break application on a case-by-case basis but, in general, a short marriage is considered one that lasted less than five years, with a limited period of living together (cohabitation) beforehand.
Does a clean break order affect child maintenance?
You can’t achieve a fully clean break if you have children with your partner.
Your divorce settlement will need to include child maintenance payments which you’ll have to pay to your spouse each month. This means that you will have ongoing financial obligations to your spouse.
However, you can make a consent order that separates your finances in all other respects.
For more information about child maintenance payments, read our guide: How much child maintenance should I pay?
How much does a clean break order cost?
There’s a one-off court fee of £53 to apply for a clean break order. But you’ll also have to employ a solicitor to draft it for you.
Some solicitors charge fixed fees or their services while others charge by the hour.
What happens if you can’t achieve a clean break order?
It’s not always possible to get a clean break order approved by the court.
Whether this is because you have complex joint assets, or because you have children, a clean break may not be considered a fair settlement in your situation.
If you’re struggling to get clean break order approved, you should talk to a solicitor to discuss your options. They’ll be able to help you to structure any maintenance payments so that they will eventually come to an end.
The Law Superstore connects you with family solicitors across England and Wales. Just type in a few details to compare prices and connect with professionals who’ll help you separate your finances from your ex-partner.