We look at a recent Court of Appeal case which considered how a couple’s assets should be shared where the marriage has been a short one, the husband and wife both have careers and there are no children. Are these circumstances where a court should depart from the usual principle of equal sharing?
In the case of Sharp v Sharp the couple’s relationship had lasted 6 years, including a period of pre-marriage cohabitation. They had no children. They both worked full time, each earning about £100,000 pa; though the husband had recently taken voluntary redundancy.
The wife also earned substantial bonuses totalling £10.5m. The husband was never aware of the actual figures but appreciated that the sums were very large.
The couple’s finances had been separately managed. They didn’t have joint bank accounts or investments. They split utility bills and even restaurant bills between them.
The wife had been generous with her money. She had purchased their two properties, as well as paying for holidays and buying her husband three Aston Martins.
The original court heard that the matrimonial assets totalled £5.45m. Of this, the husband wanted £3m while the wife offered him £1.23m.
The judge said there was no reason to depart from the standard principle of ordering an equal division of the matrimonial assets, especially as they had not chosen to opt out of this with a pre-nuptial agreement.
He therefore awarded the husband £2.275m
The wife appealed. She pointed to the specific factors of their relationship:
- Short marriage
- Dual careers
- No children
These factors, she argued, were sufficient to enable the court to depart from the principle that with the exception of non-matrimonial assets and in the absence of a formal pre-nuptial agreement, all assets should be divided equally.
The Court of Appeal sympathised with the wife’s arguments, agreeing that the principle of equal sharing was not set in concrete and in some cases, fairness requires unequal shares.
The court said that the wife’s bonuses could not be properly regarded as “family assets”. They hadn’t been generated by joint endeavours. In the context of her 20 year career they just happened to have been paid during the marriage.
Accordingly there were justifiable reasons to depart from the equal sharing principle.
The husband’s claim was therefore limited, though he still received a still very sizeable £2m.
If you require guidance on dividing matrimonial assets following divorce then contact Paul Jordan on 0808 139 1606. Paul specialises in finance disputes between divorcing or separating couples and will fight your corner to ensure that you receive a fair financial settlement.