The term ‘clean break’ is one that we use frequently in family law, but what does it actually mean and would it be appropriate in your particular circumstances?
A clean break essentially means that separating parties walk away from the marriage with no financial obligation towards the other. This means that you would no longer be liable for any debts your spouse has and you would not have to pay ongoing maintenance to provide financial support.
In What Circumstances Would a Clean Break Be Suitable?
Michael and Mary are both 40 years old and have been married for three years; there are no children of the marriage. There is equity in the region of £150,000 in the family home and both parties have reasonable income from full time employment. They both have borrowing capacity and have agreed to split the sale proceeds equally.
In this case, we would be in agreement that a clean break is suitable. Both parties have enough income to afford mortgage repayments and there is enough equity available to provide them both with a lump sum towards their new homes. Neither is reliant on the other to be able to manage monthly expenditure and they both are able to live financially independent.
Nathan and Sarah have been married for 2 years. They lived in a rental property and there are no joint assets except for a joint bank account which had been utilised to make rental payments and to cover bills.
In this case, there are no assets to divide and therefore a clean break would be appropriate. Although there are no assets to divide, we would advise drafting a clean break order to submit to the court once Decree Nisi has been pronounced to close off all financial claims between the parties. This will give both parties peace of mind that it concludes matters and they are able to now live completely financially independent.
When Would a Clean Break Not Be Suitable?
We would advise against a clean break where it is apparent that one party is in need of spousal maintenance either as a short-term provision or longer term.
Spousal maintenance is usually ordered in cases where one party earns significantly less than the other or has not been in work for a number of years whilst raising the children of the family. If this is the case, it would be difficult for this party to start again and be financially independent straight away. It may be the case that the economically weaker party could not obtain employment without going back into some sort of further education or training to update their skills. In this case, maintenance would be appropriate for a couple of years whilst this party gets back on their feet and starts to receive a reasonable income.
In some circumstances, it may not be appropriate for a party to go back to work or to retrain. This may be due to ill health or the party being close to retirement age. If this were the case, then longer term maintenance would be a consideration of the court.
If you have reached agreement with your spouse regarding financial matters and are unsure whether this is a fair and reasonable agreement, we strongly recommend you seek legal advice before signing any documentation.