In 2006 the House of Lords introduced the equal sharing principle in the joint appeal of Miller -v- Miller; MacFarlane -v- MacFarlane. The Court described marriage as being a “partnership of equals”.
The consequence of this has been that the sharing principle has been applied by the Court to the division of matrimonial assets in a divorce.
Earlier this year, the Court of Appeal in the case of Work -v- Gray, referred to the sharing principle being “firmly embedded” and that the “ordinary consequence of its application will be the equal division of matrimonial property”.
However, in the recent case of Sharp -v- Sharp the Court of Appeal have decided that perhaps this is taking the sharing principle too far.
Mr and Mrs Sharp were in their early 40s and had no children. Their relationship, including 18 months of living together before the marriage, lasted 6 years.
Mrs Sharp sought to argue that the sharing principle should be relaxed so as not to provide for equal sharing of matrimonial assets because she and Mr Sharp had a short childless dual career marriage and because of the way in which they had organised their financial affairs.
Mr and Mrs Sharp had throughout their relationship and marriage divided restaurant bills equally between them. They had shared household utility bills. Mr Sharp had not been aware of details of bonuses received by Mrs Sharp and Mrs Sharp had gifted him three cars.
The Court of Appeal agreed with Mrs Sharp that this situation fell within the very small amount of cases where it was appropriate for the equal sharing principle not to apply to matrimonial assets.
This may seem surprising because whilst the Court has always had the ability to exclude or depart from equal sharing of non-matrimonial assets, such as those owned by one party before the marriage or received by inheritance or gift, the general approach has been that matrimonial assets would be shared and where there was sufficient to meet each parties needs those matrimonial assets would be shared equally.
It appears that the outcome of this case is that Court will in the future look more closely at how couples have organised their financial affairs in short to medium term marriages.
In a limited number of cases therefore the way in which couples organised their finances may influence the outcome of financial aspects of their divorce.
To misquote George Orwell this may lead to an assumption that all marriages are equal, but some marriages are more equal than others.
For further advice following a relationship breakdown please contact Melanie Pilmer, solicitor in the Family Team at Greene & Greene on 01284 717 418 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Melanie, a solicitor with Greene & Greene Solicitors, advises in relation to a full range of family matters including divorce and associated financial matters, cohabitation disputes, children matters and Pre-Nuptial Agreements.
She is a collaboratively trained lawyer and member of Resolution – First for Family Law. She has significant experience in relation to resolving complex financial disputes often involving business assets and a considerable amount of my practice consists of negotiating and preparing Nuptial Agreements.