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Family Law - Sharp v Sharp

A recent Court of Appeal case overruled a divorce settlement which awarded the husband half of the matrimonial assets. Lord Justice McFarlane hearing the appeal slashed the award made to the husband on the basis that the 4 year marriage between Julie Therese Sharp and Robin Duncan Sharp was a short one where there were no children, and where the parties had dual incomes and separate finances.

This, he ruled, was “sufficient to justify a departure from the equal sharing principle to achieve fairness between these parties”. As a result Mr Sharp was not entitled to an equal share of the assets.

Mrs Sharp, a City trader, received an annual income of £135,000 and had received bonuses of £10.5 million over a period of five years. The judges in the Court of Appeal acknowledged that ‘the bulk, indeed effectively all” of the property had been generated by her and as a result ruled that Mr Sharp would not be entitled to the bonuses for which Mrs Sharp had worked tirelessly but that he should receive £2 million of the £5.45 million family fortune.

The approach taken by courts in previous years has been such that capital built up during a marriage should be shared equally: the sharing principle. However this recent decision provides hope for couples who are facing divorce proceedings after a short marriage.

Perhaps now a more relaxed approach will be taken to pre-nuptial agreements as couples can, if the marriage is short and childless, point to this decision if there is a disagreement on the way that the finances should be divided to argue for a departure from an equal share of the assets.

The ruling also raises a number of questions. There will no doubt be difficulties as to what will be considered a short marriage, for example how long must a marriage be for it to be defined as short? And at what stage will one spouse be entitled to share the wealth that is primarily generated by the other? Notwithstanding this the ruling demonstrates that the courts are now willing to vary the approach taken when considering a division of assets in a short marriage from the way that they would apportion assets in a longer marriage, where there are children and where it would probably be equitable to achieve a more equal split.

Court of Appeal Judgment



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