14 June 2017

'Short' marriage ruling departs from equal sharing principle

The Court of Appeal ruled in the case of Julie Therese Sharp v Robin Duncan Sharp, that the combination of factors - a short marriage, no children, dual incomes and separate finances - warranted departing from the equal sharing principle in the division of marital assets.

Jo Edwards said: “This judgment erodes the longstanding principle that the starting point is that capital built up during the course of a marriage should be shared equally, regardless of its length; the so-called sharing principle. Mrs Sharp’s lawyers have successfully argued that the application of the sharing principle is unfair given the relatively short length of their childless marriage, the fact that she was the source of the majority of the wealth and as their finances were kept largely separate throughout their dual-income relationship.   

Whilst many will have a degree of sympathy with Mrs Sharp’s stance given the facts of the case, this judgment poses almost as many questions as it answers including: how long does a marriage have to be to be defined as ‘short’?; and at exactly what stage is someone entitled to share the wealth generated by their spouse?

It may be that in light of this decision, couples take a more relaxed attitude towards pre-nuptial agreements if they know that if their marriage is short and childless and they are both in work, one of them can point to this decision as a reason not to share assets built up during the marriage. This decision moves us some way closer towards the Law Commission’s recommendation of a clearer definition and treatment of matrimonial and non-matrimonial property, though the best advice remains to have a pre-nuptial agreement which sets out clearly your intentions on divorce”.

Jo was quoted the following publications: The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Law Society Gazette, Family Law Week and Solicitors Journal.

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