Case law: Spouse who made no contribution to short marriage, either as breadwinner or homemaker, not entitled to equal split of assets

A spouse divorcing after a short marriage, with no children and who made no contribution to the marriage either as breadwinner or homemaker, may not be entitled to the usual 50/50 split of assets generated during the marriage, a recent ruling makes clear.

A husband and wife divorced after four years. When they met, they had roughly equal earnings but, during the marriage, the wife earned bonuses of some £10.5m. At the time of the divorce they had joint assets of around £7m, £5.5m of which had been generated during their marriage. They had no children and had kept their finances separate.

Initially, the husband was awarded half the assets. This followed the usual principle in England & Wales that the roles of breadwinner and homemaker are of equal value, so that matrimonial assets should be split 50/50 on a divorce unless there are exceptional reasons why not.

On appeal, however, the Court of Appeal differentiated between 'long' and 'short' marriages for the first time, and ruled that the husband should only receive £2m. This was made up of:

  • Half the value of the £2m family home
  • A sum reflecting their lifestyle during the marriage
  • A 'modest' capital sum to help him with living expenses
  • 'Some share' of the wife's assets

The Court noted that the husband had not made 'any contribution, either domestic or business': he had not contributed to either his wife's bonuses or to the couple's home life or the welfare of the family.

Operative date

  • Now

Recommendation

  • A spouse divorcing after a short marriage, with no children and who has made no contribution either as breadwinner or homemaker, may not be entitled to the usual 50/50 split of assets generated during the marriage, a recent ruling makes clear

Case ref: Sharp v Sharp [2017] EWCA Civ 408

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