How Are Assets Split When Short Marriages Breakdown?

Year Published: 2018

If the marriage is only a short one, say one or two years, are the rules any different?

In a divorce, the court will not look back over the course of the marriage and attempt to mathematically calculate the financial input of each spouse. It’s improbable each spouse will have paid in an identical amount and the court’s approach to this is sophisticated. It understands that marriage is a means by which parties commit to sharing their lives. It is a legally recognised partnership with each spouse contributing by way of domestic support, childcare provision and care, as well as financial input.

Generally speaking, the yardstick for division of matrimonial assets is an equal split, subject to the court taking account of various factors such as respective income, earning capacity and pension provision. Few would argue this is unfair when people have made personal and career sacrifices over time to support their spouse.

But what happens when the marriage is short in duration?

Case law continues to evolve on this point. It has been argued that the recent case of Sharp v. Sharp [2017] EWCA Civ 408 gives some comfort to those who have disproportionately contributed financially to what is ultimately a short, childless marriage with both people working.

In this case the parties earned similar amounts in terms of income, however the wife’s bonuses meant that she had significantly more coming in than the husband and when the marriage broke down after six years together, the wife argued against an equal split of the finances.

On appeal, the court agreed. The husband’s share was limited to £2m of the £5.45m total matrimonial assets. The rationale for this was the manner in which the parties had conducted their financial affairs during the marriage. Despite the considerable prosperity in the marriage, Mr and Mrs Sharp would on occasions split restaurant bills, and each regularly paid half of the household bills. They maintained financial segregation during the marriage, with no joint bank accounts and no joint assets.

How does this decision affect divorces after a short marriage? 

In reality, this case is unlikely to have wide reaching implications as the facts of the case are unusual, not just in the manner by which the married couple lived, but in the wealth the court had to consider.

The court can consider contribution and where the marriage is very short the judge may decide that one spouse ought not to unduly benefit from the good fortune of being very briefly married to someone who brought in considerably more wealth.

For most, the covering of each person’s reasonable needs going forward is the best that can be achieved.

Traditionalists may also question the likely longevity of a marriage which eschews the principle of sharing from the outset.

For advice on divorce involving short marriages, please contact our Family Law team on 0161 475 7676.

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