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Short Marriages - a move away from sharing?

View profile for Nameeta Gujral
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Very rarely do the outcome of cases result in a change of how courts will deal with the financial outcome of divorcing couples.  The recent Court of Appeal ruling in the case of Julie and Robin Sharp may well have just done that. Mrs Sharp earlier this summer successfully challenged an earlier ruling of a lower court that gave her ex-husband half of her assets built up during their four year marriage.

The couple married in 2008, with Mrs Sharp petitioning for a divorce in December 2013. Mrs Sharp moved out of the family home valued at over £2 million in July 2014. The High Court awarded Mr Sharp half of the assets as no sufficient reason had been identified for departing from the established principle of equal division. 

At the time of marriage, the couple had similar earnings. During the marriage Mrs Sharp earned bonuses in the region of £10.5 million. At the time of their separation their total assets were nearly £7 million, of which £5.5 million was earned during the marriage.

Lord Justice McFarlane, of the Court of Appeal panel, said that Mrs Sharp had “received bonuses way beyond the level of her previous earnings purely as a result of her employment and ….. without any contribution, either domestic or business, from her husband”.

The impact of this ruling will be monitored by family lawyers across the country. In 2000, a major ruling in the case of White v White meant that it has generally been accepted that assets built up over the course of a marriage, should be divided equally, regardless of the length of marriage. This Court of Appeal decision brings with it a change in how the concept of fairness should be applied in relation to short marriages with no children.

This case highlights how important a pre-nuptial agreement discussion can be alongside discussions about flowers, venue and wedding dress, particularly if there are significant pre-existing assets and where one is likely to make a greater financial contribution to the marriage than the other.

This decision nevertheless leaves open questions such as what should be deemed a short marriage and at what point should wealth be shared. We will have to wait and see what impact this case has on future judgments.

If you would like to discuss where you specifically may stand in relation to a separation or divorce, please speak to our New Enquiries Team on: 01474 546013 to book your ‘Fixed-Price Initial Legal Advice’ consultation - just £99 inc.VAT.