New Case law: Equality remains a significant guideline in vast majority of marriages
The Court of Appeal’s recent decision in the case of Mr and Mrs Sharp has drawn sensational headlines suggesting it represents a major change in divorce law and a significant erosion of the principle of equal division of assets as the court’s starting point.
The reality is rather less earth-shattering. The couple were together for six years, and had no children. Both had earned similar amounts initially, but Mrs Sharp had become the major earner due to bonuses of over £10 million in total.
The original decision split a total of £5.45M assets equally, giving Mr Sharp £2.275M. The widely reported decision of the Court of Appeal reduced this to £2M, a reduction of only some 12%, hardly a spectacular change.
The main point of interest is that the court has said that there are some circumstances, shorter marriage cases in particular where, with other circumstances (and here the lack of children would have been particularly significant), equality is not necessarily fair. It did not decide that all short marriage cases will be treated this way, and where the assets are rather less substantial the decision is likely to have little or no impact, as the court’s first consideration will always be to meet the essential needs of both parties.
The case did not decide, as many affluent husbands may hope, that the person who earns the most money will necessarily keep the most money. Equality will remain a significant guideline in the vast majority of marriages – however unfair that may seem to some.