/ Divorce / Matrimonial agreement

What is a matrimonial agreement?

A Matrimonial Agreement is an agreement drawn up by two spouses after their marriage has broken down. 

Common topics included in matrimonial agreements are:

• how to split the couple’s finances, and
• arrangements for children of the marriage

Disclaimer

This guide outlines general topics you should be thinking about if you want to get a divorce in Northern Ireland. But it is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should contact a specialist divorce solicitor for advice on your specific circumstances.

What is a matrimonial agreement?

As is always the case in divorces, the more that the courts and lawyers are involved, the more time everything takes and the more expensive it is.

So it’s always best if you and your ex-partner can agree as much as possible between yourselves, before asking the courts to impose a settlement.

A Matrimonial Agreement (also known as a “Separation Agreement”) can be drawn up to set out how a couple will deal with finances, children and other matters after they divorce.

Important: As we mentioned in the previous section, in cases where the family finances and property have not been finalised, the Petitioner is generally advised not to apply for the Decree Absolute until after the finances are resolved. This is because you could lose certain rights, such as widow pension benefits, when the Decree Absolute is issued. 

If an agreement is reached, it can be made legally binding by being signed by both parties, and can also be made an Order of the Court.

Matters often dealt with by Matrimonial Agreements include:

  • who lives in the family home
  • how any assets are going to be divided (e.g. a family car, etc)
  • how bills are going to be paid (e.g. hire purchase agreements, utilities, etc)
  • how any debt is going to be divided
  • arrangements for children, including custody and maintenance

To come to an agreement, both spouses will have to provide all information about their finances to the other, a process known as “discovery”.

It’s very important that both parties are open and honest during discovery. If one party has been found to have hidden documentation or information, the Matrimonial Agreement could be set aside (i.e. be deemed invalid) at a later point.

Matrimonial Agreements are often done on a “clean-break” basis. This means that both spouses often agree that neither will have a claim to the other’s property, money or assets in the future – all financial ties to each other are broken.

This can have quite serious implications, so you need to be sure of what you are doing before you sign a Matrimonial Agreement that does this.

For example, if you enter a Matrimonial Agreement is agreed on a clean-break basis, and suddenly your spouse inherits a fortune from a long-lost uncle, you will have no claim to those assets.

There can also be tax implications too, depending on your individual circumstances.

If your finances and family situation are quite simple, a Matrimonial Agreement could be agreed with relative ease.

But if your finances are a bit more complicated, you should think about getting advice from a specialist divorce solicitor to make sure all of your interests are protected and you get no nasty surprises in the future.

The above article is part of our guide on how to get a divorce in Northern Ireland.

If you are thinking about getting a divorce, you should get in touch with a Northern Ireland specialist divorce solicitor who will be able to provide advice tailored to your own personal circumstances.

If you have any questions, you are very welcome to get in touch.

All the best,

The Team @ Lightlaw
Every effort is made to keep this guide up to date. Although it is not to be regarded as legal advice, we strive to make sure the information is helpful, accurate and practical. If you are a Northern Ireland divorce solicitor and have spotted an inaccuracy, you can submit a suggested change.
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