“It is a fact universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”. But what happens when the wife has an even greater fortune than the single man and their marriage breaks down within a few years?
These issues were grappled with by the Court of Appeal last month in the case of Sharp v Sharp. In this case, the husband and wife were in their early forties, had both worked hard to independently create their own wealth prior to their relationship and both earned salaries in the region of £100,000 per year. However, the wife bonuses for the central few years of their relationship totalled £10.5 million. During the four year marriage, the parties kept their assets almost entirely separate.
In November 2015, the High Court decided that the parties should be held to the starting point of an equal division of the assets on divorce and the husband was awarded £2.7 million, being exactly half of the assets which the parties had agreed formed the matrimonial pot. They also awarded the wife to pay £80,000 towards the husband’s legal costs.
The wife appealed both parts of the order and the matter was heard by the Court of Appeal earlier this year. They held that the various factors in the case, being a short marriage, no children, dual incomes and separate finances meant that a departure from the starting point of equal division was justified and dismissed the costs order against the wife. The husband was awarded £2million.
Maxine Goble, solicitor in the family department at HMG comments; “ This case sets out for the first time that a short marriage is, when coupled with other clear evidence of the parties financial conduct, a reason to depart from equality upon divorce. However, it is clear that the decision in this case is highly fact specific and clients should seek legal advice in order to clarify whether the same is likely to apply their situation.”
“Clients who find themselves contemplating marriage where there is an imbalance of assets or income may wish to consider a pre-nuptial agreement in order to give as much certainty as possible as to how the assets would be divided should the relationship breakdown. They may find that the limited cost of this exercise to achieve some certainty is preferable to the much greater cost of litigation where the outcome would be unknown” adds Maxine.
If you need help or advice with separation, divorce or other family matters, please contact Maxine on 01869 252244.