Short Marriages and Departing from Equality

Since the landmark case of White v White in 2001, the concept of fairness in matrimonial financial settlements has almost been synonymous with equality. That case made it very clear that there is to be no bias against the homemaker, and the contributions that have been made by the spouse who takes a more traditional role in caring for the children and the home are given equal weight to the spouse who has gone out to work. White gives us a general guide of the yardstick of equality, that is to say that equality should only be departed from where there are good reasons for doing so.

When can you treat the homeowners as unequal?

This begs the question; what are good reasons for doing so? In many cases this will hinge on the couple’s respective needs. Often when a marriage breaks down and the finances have to be untangled there is simply not enough to go round. In such cases the person who is continuing to provide a home for the children may need to receive a greater percentage of the overall assets in order to do so. The needs, obligations and responsibilities that each party has or will have in the foreseeable future is one of the relevant factors, and the Court will give first consideration to any child of the family under the age of 18.

Many people feel that contributions that they have made should also be taken into account. This includes, for example, assets brought into the marriage from before the relationship and potentially from inheritance. Additionally, in a small number of cases one of the parties will claim that they have made a contribution so special, otherwise known as a stellar contribution, it should increase their share of the assets. Earlier this year footballer Ryan Giggs indicated that he would be running this argument when the High Court hears his case in the near future. These types of cases will turn on their own facts and expert legal advice is essential.

Sharp v Sharp

The recent case of Sharp v Sharp [2017] EWCA Civ 408 in the Court of Appeal considered the yardstick of equality with reference to short marriages. Mr and Mrs Sharp began living together in 2007, married in June 2009 and divorce proceedings were commenced in December 2013. During the relationship Mrs Sharp received bonuses from her employment as a trader of £10.5 million, an income totally unmatched by Mr Sharp. They had no children together and both were continuously employed until Mr Sharp took voluntary redundancy in 2012. Initially Mr Sharp was awarded 50% of the available assets, £2.725million, after a deduction for pre-marital assets and other agreed assets. On appeal, it was noted that it is possible to build up property during the marriage to which one spouse is solely entitled and the overall award to the husband was reduced to £2million. It is clear that the length of the marriage may, in certain circumstances, justify a departure from equality to achieve fairness overall.

For advice on divorce and other family issues, Jo Morris can be contacted by email at or by calling 0117 962 1460 to speak to Jo or one of AMD’s team of specialist family solicitors in Bristol

This article is provided for general information purposes only and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at the date of uploading. This article should not be relied upon as legal advice pertaining to any specific factual situation. Legal decisions should be made only after proper consultation with a legal professional of your choosing.

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