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Divorce ruling set to encourage consideration of marriage length

14th Jun 2017

A family lawyer has warned that a potentially groundbreaking court ruling could have a major effect on divorce cases involving so-called ‘short marriages’ in the future.

The case in question is brought by Julie Sharp, an energy trader, who is challenging a judgement that gave £2.74million to her ex-husband based on the equal division of assets. The marriage lasted four years, in which time she did not have children with him.

The key question in this case is not the defendant’s gender, but the actual length of the marriage, and whether it is reason enough to challenge the long-standing rule of dividing the matrimonial pot in half, according to head of family at Mayfair firm Forsters, Jo Edwards.

‘Long-established case law demonstrates that where assets are built up during a marriage, they should be shared equally, regardless of its length. If Mrs Sharp succeeds in overturning this judgement, it could have a significant impact on “short marriage” cases going forward, eroding the long-standing principle in relation to matrimonial property,’ she said. ‘This triggers the question, how short does a marriage need to be in order to be defined as short? And from what point is one entitled to share the money earned by the other?’

She continued on to propose another way of challenging the judgement – to dispute what the court considers the matrimonial pot consists of.

‘One of the properties treated as such (and therefore subject to the sharing principle) was a property that Mrs Sharp owned prior to the marriage,’ she explained.

‘It was argued on Mr Sharp’s behalf that, as well as overseeing the renovation of the couple’s matrimonial home, he managed the second property, and therefore there was a pooling of resources. If Mrs Sharp had kept the property entirely separate and managed it herself, it may have been treated as non-matrimonial, and therefore less likely to be shared.’

‘Ultimately, the surest way to ringfence assets on divorce is to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement.’