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Sharing assets in short marriages

The case of Mr and Mrs Sharp has recently been to the Court of Appeal.

At 6 years with 18 months cohabitation theirs was a shortish childless marriage. Both had worked hard but the wife had earned big bonuses compared with the husband. At the original hearing in the original trial in the High Court the judged had concluded that everything should be shared equally in the absence of a pre-nuptial agreement tot he contrary.

The wife thought that is was unfair and appealed. The Court of Appeal decided that the trial judge was wrong and re-stated the point mainly stemming from the earlier case of Miller (2006) that it is perfectly possible to employ flexibility to depart from equal sharing in order to be fair in the particular facts of a particular case.  In some cases fairness may only be achieved by departing from equal sharing. It is necessary sometimes to decide which assets are “matrimonial property” and which are not. The facility for flexibility in the way the court may approach a case is one of the hallmarks of our discretionary system. In particular the court has put back into its box the suggestion that equal sharing applies across the board unless there is a pre-nup.

A well-drawn pre-nup will in fact go to some lengths to separate out and define pre-existing and individually owned assets compared with shared or jointly acquired assets both before and during the marriage so that the different sorts of assets do not become confused upon subsequent breakdown of the relationship.  This case helps us to understand why. Keep an eye out for our forthcoming blog on what should be in a pre-nup and why.


Ian is the Senior Partner and Head of Family Law at SME Solicitors. Please contact him or Joanna Gardner for specialist help and advice in all aspects of family law at or

Added: 25 Aug 2017 15:06

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