Equality Of Division Of Assets On Divorce Abolished? Hardly
The popular press made a great deal of a recent Court of Appeal case (Sharp v Sharp), reporting that there had been a significant departure from the general principle that the assets built up by a couple during their marriage are to be split more or less equally on divorce.
In the family court, the judge had divided the couple's assets 'down the middle', awarding a wealthy trader's husband £2.75m of total assets of £5.45m. This led to a challenge by the wife, who had earned the large majority of the money.
On appeal, the husband's settlement was reduced to the ownership of one of the couple's two houses plus £900,000 as a lump sum. The total value of his settlement was £2m. His ex-wife was also required to pay £80,000 of his £200,000 legal costs. The reality is that the circumstances of the case were unusual and also that there have been a number of departures from the equality principle.
In the case in point, the marriage was considered short (only six years), the couple had no children and they had maintained their finances completely separately during their marriage.
Furthermore, during the time they were married the wife had received massive bonuses in her role as a trader in the wholesale fuel market.
In his commentary on the ruling of Lord Justice McFarlane, Lord Justice McCombe said statute directs attention to a wide variety of criteria for resolution of matrimonial finance problems, one of which is expressly the duration of the marriage. The principle of equality obviously properly applies to the vast majority of cases as the House of Lords cases have decided, but (not) to the small minority," adding that the facts in this case were 'confined'.
Whilst there are general legal principles which apply in all areas of law, the specific facts and the quality of the legal representation are crucial determinants of the final decision.
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