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Divorce case calls 'sharing principle' into question

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The importance of pre-nuptial agreements has been highlighted in a divorce case taken to the Court of Appeal this week, as well as raising many questions about how long a marriage should be before the ‘sharing principle’ of assets should apply.  Claire Knight, Family Lawyer, here reviews the case and offers advice as to how couples should protect themselves and their assets when considering marriage.

Julie and Robin Sharp first met in 2007 when they both earned around £100,000; Julie Sharp as an energy trader and Robin Sharp as an IT consultant.  During their five year relationship Mrs Sharp, also earned £10.5million in bonuses, which they used to buy two country houses in Gloucestershire and spent £500,000 having one refurbished.  Mrs Sharp filed for divorce in 2013, after she found out Mr Sharp had started another relationship.  At this time, the matrimonial pot held £6.9million. 

‘Clean break’ settlement in divorce

The divorce case went to the Family Court in 2015, where Judge Sir Peter Singer awarded Mr Sharp £2.75million in a ‘clean break’ settlement.  He based this on an equal split of their assets, with a reduction for those that Mrs Sharp had built up before their marriage.  Mr Sharp was also awarded a £60,000 lump sum to offset a claim for a share of his wife’s pension. 

“Mrs Sharp has now appealed this decision, claiming that her husband should not receive more than £1.2million,” explains Claire.  “Her lawyer has based this on the fact that virtually all their wealth came from Mrs Sharp’s bonus payments, and that their marriage was a ‘short, childless, dual career’ one.  Further evidence claims that Mr Sharp apparently ‘went out of his way to explain that he did not see her as a sort of cash machine on whose financial resources he would have a call’.  Her lawyer also explained that the couple maintained largely separate finances, sharing bills and ‘earning and spending their own money’.”

Mr Sharp’s lawyer however has said that Mr Sharp is entitled to the amount he has received as he made a major contribution towards the planning and management of the refurbishment work on their properties, particularly after he took redundancy in 2012; a decision he claims they made together and that they would use her finances towards ‘redeveloping their home and supporting their joint life together’.

Lords Justice McFarlane, McCombe and David Richards have now reserved their decision on Mrs Sharp’s appeal.

Impact on ‘sharing principle’ in divorce

“If Mrs Sharp is successful in her appeal it would overturn a landmark judgement in 2006 which said that assets built up during marriage should be split in half by default, regardless of length of marriage,” continues Claire.  “If this were to happen, it would open up many questions about length of marriage; how short is a short marriage for example?  It could be hard for judges to set a precedent for future divorce cases.”

This case does also highlight the importance of having a pre-nuptial agreement in place.  “Of course no couple gets married with the view that they are one day going to divorce and argue about the division of their assets,” concludes Claire.  “However this is a very real problem for many couples, particularly where one party is likely to make a greater financial contribution than the other.  Many people think that pre-nuptial agreements are only for the rich and famous, but this is not the case.  They can be useful where one partner has put more into the marital home than the other, or a post-nuptial agreement could be drawn up if one party receives a large inheritance after the wedding takes place.  Although not legally binding they can be highly persuasive.   We see too many situations where a pre-nuptial agreement could have saved time and money when a couple is already going through an emotional and stressful time.”

If you would like to find out more about a pre or post-nuptial agreement, or you are considering a divorce and have questions about the division of your assets, you can contact Claire or the Family team on 02380 717431 or email familyenquiries@warnergoodman.co.uk.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.