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  • Writer's pictureJohn Pratley

Not everyone who gets divorced is rich.

Updated: Apr 10

The family law reports are bedtime reading for most family law solicitors specialising in financial issues following divorce. That is where senior judges sitting in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court give guidance about how judges dealing with divorces on a daily basis in the Family Court across the country should approach divorce settlements.

John Pratley Apple Tree Family Law

The actual law on the subject, to be found in Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 is remarkably vague, so the family law reports flesh it out, and that is what we talk about between ourselves.


But most of the cases that get reported concern very wealthy people. For example, at the date of this post, lawyers are chattering about a recent case in the Supreme Court which concerned a Mr and Mrs Potanin. They were Russian, they lived the whole of their married life in Russia and when they separated in 2007 Mr Potanin transferred about $76 million to Mrs Potanin. Later when they divorced the Russian divorce courts gave her a settlement worth another $41.5 million. Which is a lot of money in most people’s reckoning, but only a tiny fraction of Mr Potanin’s fortune reckoned to be about $20 billion. Then Mrs Potanin moved to London, and the issue in the case is whether she should be allowed to pursue another divorce settlement here in England, where she could hope to do much better.

For most people things are vastly different. A recent study conducted by researchers from Bristol University [1]established what divorce lawyers know to be true, which is that most divorcing couples have relatively modest amounts of wealth to divide at the end their marriage. They were able to access enough data to draw objective conclusions, and amongst other things they found that –


  • 63% of divorcing couples had assets worth under £500,000 and 17% (so nearly one in five) had no assets to divide at all.

  • Nearly a third of divorcees (31%) had no savings or assets other than their pension or the equity in their home.

  • The median value of divorcees total assets, including the value of their home and their pension was £135,000.

  • 28% of divorcees were renting, the majority in private tenancies. 68% had been living in owner-occupied family homes before their divorce, but 34% of these had equity of less than £100,000, and only 7% had equity above £500,000.

  • More than two in five (43%) reported that their household income was under £2,000 a month when they separated, and only 8% had a disposable income of £5,000 per month or more.


In reality most divorcing couples are trying to figure out how to divide a modest pot of assets to provide properly for their children and allow each of them to live decently to something approaching the standard of living they had during the marriage.


[1] ⁠E Hitchings, C Bryson, G Douglas, S Purdon, and J Birchall, Fair Shares? Sorting out Money and Property on Divorce (University of Bristol, 2023). Available at: University of Bristol


Health Warning :This post is intended as a general guide only – It is important to obtain expert advice about your own situation, I can certainly accept no responsibility for any loss you might suffer as a result of relying purely on the information on this website.


John Pratley is an expert divorce lawyer, who has more than 25 years’ experience advising clients purely about divorce and related family law issues, such as the financial consequences of separating and divorcing. After establishing the first niche family law practice in Bristol, and going on to senior management roles in a national firm, John set up Apple Tree Family Law in 2018. Apple Tree Family Law solicitors specialise in advice about divorce and financial issues.

We are based in Bristol and Exeter, but we have clients all over the UK and further afield. We offer, simply, clear and accurate advice about divorce and family law issues, and the very best client service, for a clear and reasonable price.


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