Sharp vs Sharp – Changing the goalposts?

Family in a park discussing the future as a family

The recent Court of Appeal decision in the case of Sharp v Sharp has brought into focus the question of whether the courts are now going to be taking a different view on the “sharing principle” which is at the heart of matrimonial law upon divorce.

In the above case, the wife appealed against the initial court view that the assets of a marriage should be shared equally when a couple divorce. This was a short marriage of only six years (including pre-marital cohabitation) and the parties had pre-acquired assets. However, there was a joint “matrimonial pot” of £5.3m. The Court of Appeal reduced the husband’s share from an equal portion (£2.725m to £2m), citing significant reasons.

In this case, there were no children, both parties had their own careers and, significantly, their finances were split, not only in separate bank accounts but even when they ate out socially or paid utility bills. They only pooled some of their assets.

As a result, the Court of Appeal calculated the husband’s claim should be limited to £2m along the following lines:

  • £1.3 million represented a 50 per cent share of the joint assets;
  • A further £700,000 to reflect the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, the need for the husband to have a modest capital fund to live in the property and for a share (but not an equal one) of the assets held by his wife.

While the figures involved do not reflect the assets in more “run-of-the-mill” divorces, the principle used in this case will undoubtedly be applied in other, similar short marriages.

For this to be now seen as a starting point, rather than the principle of equality, is a significant change for the courts.

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