An eagerly awaited court ruling tomorrow could have a major impact on divorce cases involving ‘short’ marriages, a family lawyer has warned.
The Court of Appeal is due to hand down judgment in a case brought by energy trader Julie Sharp. She is challenging a judgment that awarded her ex-husband £2.74m, based on an equal division of assets, following a four-year childless marriage.
Jo Edwards, head of family at Mayfair firm Forsters, said the key question is not about gender but whether the brevity of the marriage is a reason to depart from dividing the matrimonial pot 50/50.
Edwards said: ‘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 judgment, it could have a significant impact on “short marriage” cases going forward, eroding the long-standing principle in relation to matrimonial property.
‘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?’
Another possible way to challenge the judgment is to consider whether the court’s assessment of what constituted the matrimonial pot was correct, she said.
Edwards explained: ‘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. 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.’