Sharp v Sharp [2017] changed the way the courts divide up a divorcing couple's assets where the marriage is short and childless.

The Sharp’s had been married for four years, following two years of living together.  They separated in 2013 when Mrs Sharp discovered her husband's infidelity.  

They had no children together and both worked full-time.  At the start of their marriage they were both earning similar basic annual salaries of around £100,000, but Mrs Sharp received bonuses thereafter of £10.5 million.  Mr Sharp's bonuses were insignificant. 

Before they got married they bought a property in joint names for £1.02 million which was funded solely by Mrs Sharp.  During the marriage they bought a second property in joint names for £2 million.  Other than the jointly owned properties they generally kept their finances separate.

Originally the court awarded Mr Sharp £2.725 million but Mrs Sharp appealed, saying this was too much on the basis that:-

  1. the marriage was short and childless;
  2. they both enjoyed full-time employment; and
  3. they had largely kept their finances separate.

The Court of Appeal reduced Mr Sharp's award but still awarded him a considerable settlement of £2 million to include a modest share of Mrs Sharp’s assets and to take into account the standard of living enjoyed throughout the marriage and the need for Mr Sharp to have a capital fund in order to live in the property he would retain. 

Previously the case law had suggested that all matrimonial property and assets, acquired during the marriage, should be divided equally, but this decision acknowledges that, whilst this may be appropriate in many cases, it should not be an automatic presumption.  The length of the marriage is a relevant factor to be taken into account when apportioning the assets.

Perhaps still the best way to avoid uncertainties if you are concerned about protecting your assets on entering a marriage is to put in place a pre-nuptial agreement.