Worthingtons Solicitors

Inherited Assets and Divorce

Upon a married couple’s separation, issues frequently need to be resolved in relation to the parties’ financial affairs. In general, the Courts here in Northern Ireland tend to draw a distinction between those assets which have been accrued during the marriage by the parties’ joint endeavours, frequently referred to as ‘matrimonial assets’, and those which have been acquired from sources outside the marriage, frequently referred to as ‘non-matrimonial assets’.

Matrimonial assets would typically include property such as the matrimonial home, any income derived from the parties’ respective employment, any pensions accrued, any policies held and savings accrued during the course of the relationship.

The concept of ‘non-matrimonial assets’ tends to refer to assets which have been derived from a source outside of the marriage, such as an inheritance acquired by one of the parties.  Depending on all the circumstances of the case, such ‘non matrimonial assets’ may be treated differently by the courts and the starting point for division is less likely to be an equal split, if this is not considered to result in a fair and just outcome. ‘Non-matrimonial assets’ might arguably also include assets acquired by one of the parties before the marriage or after separation, or assets which are the product of one party’s sole endeavours, but again how they are divided will depend on all the circumstances of the case and will take in to account a number of factors. These are set out in the relevant legislation, Article 27 of the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, and which states the Court is required to have specific regard to the income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future; the financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future; the standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage; the age of each party and the duration of the marriage; any physical or mental disability of either of the parties to the marriage; the contributions which each of the parties has made or is likely in the foreseeable future to make to the welfare of the family, including any contribution by looking after the home or caring for the family; and the conduct of each of the parties, but only if that conduct is such that it would in the opinion of the court be inequitable to disregard it. 

Importantly, where there are dependent children of the marriage, the court must have regard to the financial needs of the child, including their housing needs, whether any child suffers from a physical or mental disability; and the manner in which any child was expected to be educated or trained.

In practice, the Court has a wide discretion in determining division of both matrimonial and non matrimonial assets results and the particular facts are  considered on a case by case basis, but lawyers practising in this area are guided by the legislation and case law which assist us in advising how the specific facts in any particular case are likely to be applied.

If you have any queries relating to finances after a marriage breakdown please feel free to contact our specialist solicitors in this area at [email protected] or contact us on 028 91811538 to discuss in confidence.

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