Short Marriages – More Clarity?

Most experienced family law practitioners know that White v White introduced the ‘sharing principle’ where as a general guide, an equal division of assets between husband and wife should be departed from only if there is good reason for doing so.

Often there is an argument used by the asset holding party that they have made a “special contribution” or such like and the courts in the main have been unimpressed by those arguments save where those contributions have been “exceptional”.

It would seem therefore that we are doomed to just lay down and accept the sharing principle in all but the most exceptional of cases. However recently in Sharp v Sharp [2017] EWCA Civ 408  the court did depart from the principle of sharing and the wife was successful in reducing the capital sum awarded to the husband in a short marriage with no children.

The basic facts are that the parties earned similar incomes of circa £100,000 per annum but they the wife went on to earn substantial bonuses of over £10 million during the marriage whilst the husband earned very trivial bonuses.

At first instance, applying the sharing principle Sir Peter Singer found that there was no sufficient reason identified for departing from equality of the division of the assets and awarded the husband £2.7 million. Broadly speaking half the matrimonial pot.

The wife appealed.


Decision of the Court of Appeal
McFarlane LJ held:

1. The notion that the sharing principle applied unless the parties had entered into a prenuptial agreement was “unsustainable and not supported by any authority”.

2. The opinion of the majority in Miller was that the law should entertain the possibility for departure from equal sharing where there are unilateral assets in a short marriage and it was dual-income case.

3. The obiter comments in Charman, preferring the approach of Lord Nicholls, was not a determinative statement of the law.

4. The manner in which the parties arranged their finances was more than sufficient to establish that the wife maintained her capital separately, in a manner compatible with that described by Baroness Hale in Miller.

The wife’s appeal was allowed.

The husband’s claim was therefore limited to £2 million calculated as follows:

(a) £1.3m being a 50% share of the aggregate value of the parties’ two properties, which were held in joint names; and

(b) £700,000 to reflect three factors: (i) the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage; (ii) the need for a modest capital fund to live in the property the husband was to retain; and (iii) some share in the assets held by the wife.

The main crux therefore seems to me that the income and approach to spending was to delineate expenditure but equally importantly, that the marriage was short.

One question that remains unanswered is: how is a ‘short’ marriage defined?

We shall have to wait and see.


This information provided in this article is not intended to constitute legal advice and each relationship breakdown requires careful consideration in our view by a fully qualified Solicitor before decisions are made and before you embark on a certain course of action.

Shak Inayat

Penn Chambers Solicitors
0207 183 2898



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