What is a Clean Break Order?

7 Jun 2024 | Sarah Norman-Scott
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Is It Best to Have a Clean Break Order in Divorce?

Couples often say they want a “clean break” after they divorce or separate, but what does this really mean?

In legal terms, having a clean break means ending the financial ties between you and your former spouse forever. There will be no spousal maintenance payments, lump sums or claims on each other’s pensions in the future—your financial connection will be completely severed.

Many people are surprised to learn that a divorce alone does not cut these financial ties. There are extra steps to take to secure a clean break, and it is important to understand the legal options available before you decide if this is the right financial settlement for you.

What is a clean break order?

When you divorce, you will need some type of financial order to specify how your assets will be divided and to ensure that your respective claims against one another (as a result of your marriage) are dismissed. This will either be by agreement (called a ‘consent order’) or following financial remedy proceedings because there has been no agreement.

Without a financial order, you both remain financially tied and either of you could claim against the other’s assets in the future. As unfair as it sounds, your ex could potentially claim a slice of an inheritance or lottery win that happens years after you separate without an order.

A clean break order, also know as a clean break financial order, is a specific type of financial order that contains a clean break clause. Property, savings, investments, pensions and business assets are divided up at the time of divorce, and the clean break clause records that there can be no further claims for financial provision in the future.

Once the court confirms these arrangements, the split you’ve agreed is completely final.

What are the advantages of a clean break order?

The main benefit of a clean break order is that it gives both parties certainty and finality. Once the clean break is triggered, neither party can make any further claims against the other’s assets, regardless of any changes in their circumstances.

Another advantage is that the clean break does not have to be triggered straightaway. You can decide to have a clean break now, or wait until a defined point in the future.

For childless couples who haven’t been married long, an immediate clean break is often the most appropriate. If you have young children, or if one of you has been financially dependent on the other for a long time, it may be some time before you’re ready for the clean break to take effect. For example, you might agree to pay spousal support for a year or two while your ex retrains for the job market, at which point the clean break would take effect.

Do both parties have to agree to a clean break order?

Ideally, you will both agree to a clean break order by consent. Separating your finances by agreement is always the best way to go. If your former spouse does not immediately agree to a clean break, you can try to resolve the situation through constructive negotiation with the help of your solicitor, or through mediation.

However, even where you agree on everything, you still need the court to make your clean break legally binding. Until you have a court order, there is always the risk of one person backing out. That means having your solicitor write the details of your agreed clean break into a Consent Order for approval by the judge. The judge will approve the order as long as it is fair to both parties.

If your former spouse refuses a clean break, you can apply to the court for a Financial Remedy Order. This is where a judge decides the best way to divide your money and assets. The court will hear evidence of your needs and finances, and decide whether a clean break is appropriate in your case.

A Financial Remedy Order by the court is more expensive and takes more time than getting a Consent Order. However, the court prefers when couples decide matters for themselves, and will give you plenty of opportunities to agree to a clean break without the need for a full hearing.

What if we have children?

It’s not possible to agree a clean break in relation to child maintenance. The welfare of the children is always a priority in divorce proceedings, and the person who cares for the children most of the time almost always will receive ongoing child maintenance payments from the other.

A clean break can be agreed in respect of all other financial claims between you both. However, the practicalities of caring for children under the age of 18 mean that, often, a clean break is not possible. For example, many couples defer the sale of the family home while the children are living there, or agree that spousal maintenance is to be paid while the children are young.

In these cases, you might agree to a deferred clean break that takes effect after the children reach a certain age or finish their education.

When can you get a clean break order?

If you are in agreement, then you can request a Consent Order from the court to make your clean break legally binding once your Conditional Order for divorce is in place.

It’s a good idea to wait to apply for a Final Order until you have sorted out the division of your assets. That way, you can end the marriage and the financial ties between you at the same time.

Is a clean break order right for me?

For the majority of people, a clean break order is the most desirable outcome after divorce. It ensures finality and allows both parties to move on with their lives without the fear of future financial claims.

However, every situation is unique, and it’s important to seek legal advice from a solicitor who specialises in family law. We offer a free diagnostic call and are happy to discuss your options so you can make an informed decision about whether a clean break order is the right choice for you.

To speak with one of our solicitors, contact us by:

  • Filling in our online enquiry form; or
  • Calling us on 020 7485 8811

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