Helen Bowns of our Family Law team discussed a recent case where the Court of Appeal left family lawyers baffled by their decision in the case of Mr and Mrs Sharp.
The couple were married for four years and during that time Mrs Sharp earnt large bonuses, with a significant feature of the case being that the Sharps kept their finances separate. Mr Sharp applied to the court for financial provision, arguing that he should be entitled to an equal division of the wealth built up during the marriage. The Judge agreed with this position, as he could see no reason why the assets should not be treated in this way. It has long been established law that, generally, assets built up during the marriage should be divided equally, irrespective of the length of the marriage. Mr Sharp was awarded £2.725m, representing half of the matrimonial assets.
Mrs Sharpe was unhappy with this judgement and took the case to the Court of Appeal. The court of Appeal disagreed with the previous Judge and the award was reduced to £2 million. The court concluded that in a short, dual career marriage, in which the parties kept their finances separate, a departure from equality was justified.
The decision raises more questions than it answers, such as, what is a short marriage? Does such a departure from equality only apply to dual career couples? In fact the only thing that appears certain is the uncertainty in how we advise our clients in similar situations.