We only had a short marriage – is my spouse entitled to half?

When the courts divide financial assets on divorce they follow a general principle that an equal division of those assets between the parties should be departed from only if, and to the extent that, there is good reason for doing so.

This ‘sharing principle’, as it is known, leads many people going through divorce to believe that they are automatically entitled to half of the assets. And, to put it the other way around, it leads many to fear that, no matter what, they will have to pay half to their spouse, even if they contributed most of the assets to the marriage.

But what if it was only a short marriage? Will you still have to pay half to your spouse?

Perhaps the best answer is: not necessarily.

When the court decides how assets should be divided on divorce it must have regard to a list of factors, as set out by statute. One of those factors is the duration of the marriage. Thus, the fact that the marriage was short could have a bearing upon the division, meaning that the party who contributed less may get less than half.

But the statute does not define what a ‘short marriage’ is. All we can do is look at the case law to see what judges have decided, although caution is required, as each case is decided upon its particular facts. And it may be surprising to some just how short a marriage has to be for a judge to consider it short.

Whilst there is certainly no ‘cut-off’ point at which a marriage is no longer defined as ‘short’, the cases suggest that any marriage that lasted for more than three years is unlikely to be defined as ‘short’.

Looking at it the other way though, the shorter the marriage the greater the bearing that the marriage’s duration is likely to have upon the division of the assets. Thus, for example, in a recent case a judge who found that the marriage lasted just eight months awarded the wife just 20% of the assets.

It is important to note, however, that if there are children of the marriage then the fact that the marriage was short is likely to be of less importance to the outcome – the welfare of the children and the future contributions of either party in looking after the children will take precedence when dividing the assets.

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If you feel that the short duration of your marriage might affect your financial settlement then you should seek the advice of an expert family lawyer. Family Law Café can put you in touch with an expert – call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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