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Departure from Equal Sharing Principle in Short Marriages
A landmark case has departed from the long standing position in divorce cases whereby a 50:50 split of assets is taken as the default starting point for settlement.
Julie Sharp took her case to the Court of Appeal where a previous ruling that had awarded her husband, Robin Sharp, half of the matrimonial pot, was overturned. The initial award of £2.725 million was reduced to £2 million.
The basis of Mrs Sharp’s argument was that her husband should not be entitled to 50% of the assets as this was a short marriage, lasting only 4 years.
In previous cases however, the length of the marriage has not impacted upon the use of the equal sharing principle. That is, in short marriages, just as in long marriages, the principle was applied as default. The ruling in the case of Sharp v Sharp therefore raises questions as to how Courts will proceed in the future when dealing with “short” marriage cases. Indeed, what length of time would be considered to constitute a “short” marriage?
However, the length of the marriage was not the sole factor that contributed to the Court of Appeal departing from the equal sharing principle.
In this case, other factors were taken into account. The case was described by Lord Justice McFarlane as a ‘non-business partnership, non-family asset case’. This was because the parties had no children, had kept their finances separate and the husband had made no contribution to the work bonuses the wife had received over the course of the marriage (which amassed to £10.5 million). Furthermore, the husband had not made greater domestic contributions during the marriage than had the wife.
It would therefore appear that the departure from the equal sharing principle arose due to the interplay of a number of factors.
This ruling marks a significant change in how the equal sharing principle will be applied to short marriages. However, only time will tell how this particular ruling will be applied in future cases involving “short marriages” and the relative weight that will be given to the different factors contributing to the outcome.