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Dividing assets in a short marriage

Short marriage example: Sharp v Sharp 2017

It has long been the case that the family courts divide assets on divorce by reference to the “yardstick of equality”; following the then land-mark case of White v White over 17 years ago.

Many practitioners have taken this to mean an equal 50/50 split, although that is not necessarily what the law-makers said. In the recent case of Sharp v Sharp (2017), the Court of Appeal has attempted to further clarify the position stating:

“an automatic or blind application of a 50/50 split in every case can only be an impermissible judicial gloss on the statute, which expressly requires the court to consider all the circumstances of the case”

In the short marriage of Sharp v Sharp, to some commentators surprise, the Court of Appeal significantly reduced the husband’s award based on the relative shortness of the marriage and his overall lack of contribution. Both parties were in their 40s and although had cohabited from 2007 until 2013 were only married for a short 18 months. There were no children. Both parties had similar salaries of circa £100,000pa although the wife had earned bonuses of some £10.5M during the marriage as an energy trader to which the husband had made no notable contribution whether business or home-related. The court also heard that the couple had arranged their finances in a particular manner often dealing with the household finances separately, including the splitting of restaurant, household and utility bills.

Given the shortness of the marriage, that they had no children together and had maintained separate finances, the Court of Appeal held there was sufficient reason to depart from the long established principle of equal sharing.

Sharp v Sharp emphasises that on divorce, one size does not fit all. It also highlights the importance of obtaining accurate legal advice at the start of proceedings and that each case will be highly fact and circumstance specific.

Whether you are an individual experiencing relationship breakdown, or a professional seeking advice on behalf of your client, if you would like a confidential chat to discuss financial matters on divorce please contact us by calling 01785 223440.