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If you are going through a divorce, ancillary relief (also known as a financial order) is a key part of the process to obtaining a fair financial settlement.

In this guide I'll talk you through the key steps, including:

  • What is Ancillary Relief?
  • How does the court determine your financial settlement?
  • How long does the process take?

And more...

Let's get started...

What is Ancillary Relief In Divorce Proceedings?

Ancillary relief (also known as a financial order) is a type of court order made by the Family Court to divide up assets and finances between parties when a marriage or civil partnership ends. This can include things like property, savings, <bloglink>pensions<bloglink> and <bloglink>maintenance payments<bloglink>.

The aim is to ensure that both parties are looked after financially following the end of the relationship.

Is Ancillary Relief Part Of The Divorce Process?

Technically, no.

This is something that often confuses divorcing couples. The process of getting a divorce (actually ending your marriage) is separate from the process of dividing your assets (although they often run alongside each other).

To divide your finances, you need a financial order in addition to your <bloglink>divorce decree<bloglink>. Often couples are able to come to an agreement on how to divide their finances during the proceedings for divorce (either by themselves, or with the help of their solicitors or a mediator).

But if you can't agree, then the court will make a binding order to determine how the parties must share their assets and debts.

The divorce process versus the ancillary relief infographic

Top Tip:

Why is it called "Ancillary relief"?

"Ancillary" means in support of the primary objective. So, getting divorced is your primary objective, and agreeing how to divide your finances is an "Ancillary order" to your divorce.

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What Is Included In An Ancillary Relief Order?

The key components of the Ancillary Relief Order are:

  • Pension rights
  • Property division
  • Savings
  • Investments
  • Division of debts

Ancillary relief orders can be complex and, depending on the circumstances, may involve multiple financial aspects to come to either a voluntary agreement or court order. The court will look at all of the matrimonial assets and finances and decide how best to divide them up between the couple involved in a fair way.

This could include the division of <bloglink>property<bloglink> including the matrimonial home, money and other assets, such as business interests and <bloglink>pension schemes.<bloglink>  Your debts will also be divided, such as credit cards, loans, or any outstanding balance on your mortgage. The court may also consider what each party will need to live on going forward and make orders for maintenance payments if necessary.

After an application is made to court, both parties must complete a questionnaire (called the 'Form E') where you record all of your assets and debts and then share this information with your spouse (or their solicitors) during the financial disclosure process.

You will also likely need to get a valuation of your assets, such as the family home or any pensions. 

The Form E financial statement
Both spouses must record all their financial assets on the Form E.

Who Can Apply For Ancillary Relief?

Either spouse can ask the court to make a financial arrangement. The applicant may file an application to the court known as the <bloglink>'Ancillary Relief Order'<bloglink> that outlines their proposals for the financial division of assets following the dissolution of the marriage.

Even if the couple are able to agree on splitting the assets, one spouse has to assume the role of filing the petition for divorce, and thereby starting the legal process of your separation.

Some key points to note:

  • Either one of the spouses can ask for Ancillary Relief.
  • While a 50/50 split is taken as a starting point, Financial Remedy Proceedings can be unequal (even up to being 100% in favour of one spouse).
  • Informal agreements between parties to the marriage are not recommended (always seek legal advice).
  • If the process proceeds uncontested, it can be resolved in a matter of weeks. If not, it can take upwards of nine months to a year.
  •  The Needs Principle will often come into play (see below).

How Does The Court Determine Ancillary Relief?

Often couples assume that their assets will be shared equally. However, while 50-50 division is taken as a starting point, the court can depart from this based on a number of factors. When considering an application for ancillary relief, the court must take into account a number of statutory factors that are known as the <bloglink>Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 factors<bloglink> which include: the needs and resources of each party, the age of both parties, any disability either party may have, how long the marriage or civil partnership lasted, and any other relevant circumstances.

The specifics of these factors in your case can lead a court to move away from a 50-50 division.

What Is The Needs Principle?

If finances are not split down the middle, they’re typically apportioned following the Needs Principle. Quite simply, this principle asserts that all monetary assets will split in favour of the spouse that needs them more.

Here are a few examples where the court is likely to find one spouse has greater needs than the other:

  1. One spouse has majority or sole custody of any children of the family.
  2. One spouse made little to no income during the marriage (particularly if they sacrificed a career for the family).
  3. One party has a complicated living situation – such as not having any friends or family in the area.
  4. The other party makes significantly more money.

How Does The Court Divide Your Assets?

After determining how the assets will be split, the courts can implement a number of different methods to divide the assets, including:

  • Maintenance Orders – Periodical payments.
  • Lump sum Payments
  • Pension Sharing Orders
  • Transfer of Property

How Long Is The Process Of Ancillary Relief?

The length of the ancillary relief process will depend on the particular circumstances of each case and also on how much time is required for both parties to reach a mutually agreeable resolution. 

If you and your former partner are able to reach an agreement yourselves then this can be approved by the court quite quickly (in a matter of a few months). However, if there is a disagreement then the court will decide what order should be put into place.

Generally, a disputed process may take anywhere from a few months (averaging 9 months) to several years (in very difficult or high-value cases), depending on the complexity of the divorce and financial matters involved, and whether your case proceeds all the way to a final hearing.  

When To Apply For A Financial Order

Financial orders can be applied for at any time after a decree nisi has been issued. This is the court order that officially declares that you are entitled to a divorce and marks the end of your legal marriage. Once this has been granted by the court, you can apply for an order for ancillary relief in order to determine what assets should be divided and how much each party should receive.

If you are considering filing for an order, it is best to speak with a qualified divorce lawyer who can advise you on the best course of action. Additionally, if you and your partner are able to negotiate an agreement between yourselves, then this can be presented to the court as part of your application in order to be officially ratified. This can help to avoid a lengthy and costly court process and ensure that the outcome is as fair as possible for both parties.

How long does ancillary relief take

Use Of Consent Orders During Matrimonial Proceedings

The court encourages separating couples to try and reach an agreement themselves wherever possible. If you are able to come to an agreement with the help of your solicitors; via <bloglink>divorce mediation<bloglink>; or via a financial dispute resolution process, then it is important that you have the terms of this agreement drafted into a formal and legally binding consent order, to be approved by the court.

You can learn more about consent orders <bloglink>here.<bloglink>

Can Divorce Proceedings Conclude Without An Ancillary Relief Order?

Financial Remedy Proceedings are formally known as Ancillary Relief because the word <bloglink>ancillary<bloglink> means ‘supporting in nature.’ That means that while the divorce may include a separate application for the division of assets, it does not solely depend on finances to be split for your divorce to be finalised.

So yes, it is perfectly possible to finalise your divorce, and then deal with the finances afterwards.

However, unless there is a good reason not to - it is better to complete your financial arrangements before receiving your decree absolute and ending your marriage.

This is because, unless you have a court-approved financial or consent order, either party can file a financial claim against the other at any time after divorce. Some couples split up amicably, certain that they will be able to agree financial matters in due course. However, when one of them meets a new partner, the situation can quickly turn ugly. And so it's better to have a formally binding agreement in place before you finalise your divorce where possible.

Does The Court Have The Power To Make Costs Awards In Ancillary Relief Proceedings?

The court may award costs in such proceedings by making a costs order against one of the parties or both parties to the proceedings. This could include paying for legal fees, expert witness fees, court filing fees and other related expenses. In some cases, the court may even order one party to pay the other’s legal costs. 

While it is at the court's discretion whether to award costs during a divorce process, such an award is rare in practice. 

A costs award is more likely where the court is critical of the conduct of a party and how reasonable or agreeable they have been throughout the proceedings.

A calculator makes a bill

How Much Does An Ancillary Relief Order Cost?

At the time of this writing, the court application for an Ancillary Relief order costs £225.

But this is merely the cost of applying to court.

In addition, the costs will usually also include solicitor’s fees and possibly expert witness fees (depending on the complexity of your case and the amount of assets involved). The biggest factor in costs is whether you can agree matters, or whether your need to go to court for a contested hearing.  If you do decide to pursue litigation, it is important to discuss fees with your solicitor before proceeding.

To learn more about the costs of divorce, check out my separate guide <bloglink>here.<bloglink>

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Neil Johnstone is a barrister and the founder of Neil is a barrister with an interest in all forms of civil and family law, and has appeared at all Court levels, up to and including the Court of Appeal.

Neil started this site in response to a common problem he noticed: Clients were unable to pursue deserving cases due to a lack of up-front funds. Neil knew that better access to No-Win-No-Fee representation and legal funding could help bridge the gap, and so founded; a unique comparison site connecting clients, law firms, and specialist funders.

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