The case of a successful energy trader – who is appealing against a High Court decision to award almost half of her £7m fortune to her adulterous ex-husband – is sparking concerns among divorcing couples.
The outcome of Julie Sharp’s Civil Appeal Court plea for a “fair divorce settlement” following the judgement to allocate Robin Sharp almost £3m after a marriage lasting just four years – is awaited with interest.
This case is a stark reminder that the rules of maintenance and capital distribution take no account of fault and apply to the main breadwinner – irrespective of the fact that the divorce was apparently prompted by her former husband embarking on a new relationship while they were married.
It also illustrates that conduct and gender are not factors in a court’s decision, which is made after appraising a couple’s joint assets and deciding how they should be divided whether by sharing equally, or with some other adjustment to meet the reasonable needs of both.
Costly, distressing and, in this case, high-profile courtroom battles over settlements can be avoided with Arbitration; which allows couples to reach a divorce settlement without the trauma of the courts. The sessions are held in private, which means that journalists cannot report the details of the divorce or settlement.
The hearings, which are arranged at clients’ convenience, and at comfortable venues, see the arbitrator determine who should have what. Similar to a judge, they collect relevant facts and evidence and base their decision on this evidence – taking into account the views of both parties. The Award is final and binding in both parties.
Arbitrators are not only qualified in their process – they are also experienced family lawyers who are either former judges or family law barristers or solicitors.
Two other ways to avoid confrontation and discord are pre-nups and post-nups. A pre-nup agreement – which is drawn up between couples before marrying – sets out how their assets will be split if the marriage fails. Although not legally binding, a carefully thought through agreement, drawn up with independent advice, is quite likely to be upheld by a court.
They are also more likely to be accepted by a divorce judge if they were agreed well in advance of a marriage – and if there is no implication that one party was coerced into signing.
Post-nups are entered into after marriage; with the same aim as a pre-nup should a court decision have to be made. They are often made by couples in a second marriage who are seeking to protect children of previous relationships, or by those who wanted a pre-nup but didn’t have time, or or for some other reason felt it inappropriate, to arrange one prior to the marriage.
For both pre-nup and post-nup agreement to carry their full weight, both parties must enter into them of their own free will, without undue influence or pressure – and be fully informed of their implications.
Legal advice and disclosure are desirable, but what matters is that both parties are fully aware of the implications and have the information necessary to make an informed decision.
About Peter Jones
Peter Jones is one of the country’s leading divorce and family lawyers. A qualified arbitrator and mediator, Peter set up Jones Myers as the first niche family law firm in the north of England in 1992 and has acted for a string of high-profile clients.
Renowned for his sympathetic approach, he is a former national chairman of Resolution, a former Deputy District Judge – and instigated the D5 Group of law firms that promotes excellence in family law.