Court of Appeal reduces divorce settlement for short childless marriage

Divorce and separation

The Court of Appeal has reduced a man’s divorce settlement award from £2.725 million to £2 million after considering whether the brevity of his short childless marriage should warrant a departure from the well-established principle of a 50/50 division of assets.

Energy trader Julie Sharp and her ex-husband, IT consultant Robin Sharp, were married for four years. Mrs Sharp earned considerably more than her spouse (chiefly because of large bonus payments) and they kept their finances separate.

Previously, a court had awarded Mr Sharp £2.725 million: exactly 50 per cent of the couple’s matrimonial assets. However, the Court of Appeal concluded that in a short marriage in which the parties had kept their finances separate, a departure from the 50/50 principle was justified.

Lord Justice McFarlane, one of the three judges on the panel, said: “The husband made no contribution to the source of the wife’s bonuses and this is not a case where, save in the final year, the husband is said to have contributed more to the home life or welfare of the family than the wife.

“This case is, therefore, a ‘non-business partnership, non-family asset case’ where the bulk, indeed effectively all, of the property has been generated by the wife.

“Mrs Sharp 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 Court of Appeal’s ruling raises the possibility of a different approach being taken by judges when dividing assets in divorces that follow short marriages. But exactly what period of time can be considered ‘short’ remains undefined. There is currently no legal distinction between a long and a short marriage.

Safeguard your assets with a pre-nuptial agreement

The sensible way to seek to protect your assets in the event of a divorce is to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement (pre-nup). Although at present they cannot be viewed as absolutely watertight, the courts have shown an increasing willingness to uphold pre-nups or take them into account when deciding how assets should be split in divorce cases.

Pre-nups can help separating couples avoid a stressful, drawn-out legal dispute, and for those who are already married, post-nuptial agreements (post-nups) can have the same efficacy.

You can find out more about pre-nups and post-nups via our dedicated website page. To discuss how you can better protect your personal or business assets with a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement, please contact one of our Family Law Services Partners:

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