What’s mine is yours?

20 June 2017

A City trader has successfully challenged a divorce judgment of the High Court in 2015 which awarded her ex-husband of four years £2.7 million – half of the total matrimonial assets.

Yesterday the Court of Appeal reduced Mr Sharp's award to £2 million in a ruling which has led many family lawyers to question the status of marriage as a financial partnership. The Court ruled that it was in the interests of fairness to depart from the usual equal sharing principle on the basis of factors including the short duration of the marriage, the absence of children, a dual income and separate finances.

Jo Edwards, head of Family Law at London firm Forsters, echoed a number of commentators' sentiments in describing the ruling in Julie Therese Sharp v Robin Duncan Sharp as posing "almost as many questions as it answers."

Alex Carruthers, partner of London firm Hughes Fowler Carruthers, went as far as describing the ruling as "groundbreaking." There was previously no legal distinction between a "long" and a "short" marriage, but this ruling leaves it open to couples and their lawyers to make further legal and philosophical arguments as to duration and what it should mean in terms of the division of finances.

Quoting Baroness Hale in the famous case of Miller v Miller, however, Lord Justice McFarlane described the case as one of the "very small number of cases" in which the factors identified justified departure from the equal sharing principle.

Sally Ward, Family Solicitor of Gepp & Sons Solicitors LLP, said that "if assets are shared equally following the breakdown of the short marriage, the party who contributed more to the marriage will often be left with a sense of injustice. This decision opens up the possibility of departing from an equal share of the assets, in appropriate cases."

LJ McFarlane considered Mr Sharp's standard of living enjoyed during the marriage and his need for a modest capital fund in order to remain at the property when making a ruling on the settlement figure. Andrew Newbury, a senior family lawyer at Manchester firm Hall Brown Family Law, said that this is one of a line of cases which illustrates a move in recent years towards considering spouses' post-divorce needs as the determining factor in a settlement.

The case also raises questions as to whether more couples should be entering into pre-nuptial agreements in the hope that this will avoid racking up legal bills in taking the matter to court. Mr Sharp in this case racked up a legal bill of £200,000, £80,000 of which Mrs Sharp was ordered to contribute to.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

Our Family Law Team will be happy to assist you with all your family issues. Please contact Head of Department, Steven Payne, on 01245 228106.