Couples who divorce after only a brief marriage can no longer expect to have their assets split equally by default following an appeal court ruling.
Energy trader Julie Sharp, 44, successfully challenged a ruling that her former husband was entitled to half of the fortune she built up during their four year marriage.
She argued that “because this was a short marriage he should not get half of the matrimonial pot”. The Court of Appeal ruled in her favour, concluding that the £2.725 million pay out previously awarded to Robin Sharp, an IT consultant, should be reduced to £2 million.
The judges heard that the Sharps had a “four-year marriage to separation”, during which time they had no children and kept their finances separate.
The couple, who were described as being of “relatively modest” origins, were both earning around £100,000 when they met in 2007 but during the relationship, Mrs Sharp also received bonuses totalling £10.5 million. They separated in 2013 when Mrs Sharp became aware her husband had been “pursuing a new relationship”.
Two years later, a family judge ruled that the “principled outcome” was that Mr Sharp, 43, should receive half of their total assets as no sufficient reason had been identified for departing from the established principle of equal division.
However, Lord Justice McFarlane, one of three judges sitting on the Court of Appeal panel, said there was “no impediment” to depart from that principle, concluding that in a short, dual career marriage in which the couple had kept their finances separate, it was indeed “justified”.
The panel ruled on Tuesday that Mr Sharp’s award should be reduced to £2 million, comprising a property valued at £1.1 million, to be transferred to him, plus a lump sum of £900,000.
Announcing the decision, Lord Justice McFarlane said: “The husband made no contribution to the source of the wife’s bonuses and this is not a case where, save in the final year, the husband is said to have contributed more to the home life or welfare of the family than the wife.
Mrs Sharp had “received bonuses way beyond the level of her previous earnings purely as a result of her employment and … without any contribution, either domestic or business, from her husband.”
It is worth bearing in mind, that Mr and Mrs Sharp did not have any children; as such the court had not had to consider the implications of this. It is likely that the court may have concluded differently if children were involved.