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We’ve only been married for a few years – do I really need to share my property when we split?

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Divorce is often accompanied by a multitude of complex emotions, logistical challenges, and legal considerations. For individuals who have only been married for a short period of time, the prospect of dividing property and assets can be particularly daunting. The notion of sharing hard-earned assets with a former spouse may seem unfair or unjustified, especially in marriages of relatively brief duration.

What does the ‘duration’ of a marriage refer to?

The duration of a marriage is a crucial factor in various legal matters, particularly in the context of divorce and dissolution of marriage. In divorce proceedings, the length of the marriage can significantly impact the division of assets, spousal support, maintenance, and other financial arrangements between the parties.

The duration of the marriage was historically taken from the date the marriage took place and until the time of the breakdown of the marriage. Only in very exceptional circumstances would the court consider a period of cohabitation as forming part of the marriage for the purpose of any financial order decision made.

However, the courts are taking a more modern approach now and there is case law stating that where a relationship moves seamlessly from cohabitation to marriage without any major alteration in the way the couple live, it is inappropriate to treat the periods differently.

Overall, the duration of the marriage is an important factor that the court considers when making decisions about financial settlements and other matters arising from divorce or dissolution of marriage in English law. However, it is just one of many factors taken into account, and each case is assessed based on its individual circumstances.

What happens when cohabitation is disputed?

When cohabitation is disputed, it can lead to legal complexities regarding property rights, financial claims, and the division of assets.

The court would need to undertake a detailed inquiry of the relationship in order to establish the durability and permanence of the alleged cohabitation. The resolution of the dispute/ issue typically depends on the specific facts and circumstances of the relationship, as well as applicable legal principles.

How can the court determine whether the pre marriage relationship was akin to marriage?

The court would need to look at the parties’ intentions. It is not necessary, for example, that parties would need to spend every night together in order that their relationship be deemed sufficient. The court Is very cognisant of long-distance relationships and couples who relocate or move across international borders.

Conversely, and perhaps surprisingly for some, simply being engaged would not in itself prove permanence of a relationship.

What about the period after the marriage once we have separated?

It may be that although a marriage breaks down, the parties remain emotionally enmeshed with each other before divorce proceedings are finally issued. If this is the case, the court might consider it inappropriate to ignore the period during which they continue to be involved.

Alternatively, court could find that a parties’ marriage lasted a determined period. After which, they separated, and the parties might be found to have remained married in name only.

What qualifies as a ‘short marriage’?

There is no legal definition of a short marriage. Instead, the length of a marriage is considered one of many factors that the court takes into account when determining financial settlements upon divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership. While there is no specific time frame that categorically defines a short marriage, courts generally consider marriages of fewer than five years to be relatively short in duration.

However, it’s essential to note that the length of the marriage is just one factor among many that the court considers. Even in marriages of relatively short duration, the court will assess various other factors, such as the financial contributions of each party, their respective needs and obligations, the standard of living established during the marriage, and any other relevant circumstances.

As there is no legislative guidance on what constitutes a long or short marriage, each case is highly individual and requires the expertise of an appropriately qualified family law solicitor to provide knowledge and guidance based on their experience dealing with the court and any precedent case law which might be relevant.

Does the length of the marriage affect the financial settlement on divorce / dissolution?

Yes, the length of the marriage can indeed influence the financial settlement on divorce or dissolution in English law, although it is just one of many factors considered by the court. Generally, longer marriages tend to result in a more equal division of assets, while shorter marriages may involve a different approach to financial settlement.

In longer marriages, where the parties have likely intermingled their finances and assets over a significant period of time, the court may be more inclined to adopt an equal division of assets unless there are exceptional circumstances warranting a departure from this principle. The rationale behind this approach is often based on the notion of the parties having made equal contributions to the marriage over its duration, both financially and non-financially.

Conversely, in shorter marriages, the court may take a more nuanced approach, considering the contributions made during the marriage and the needs of each party, as well as any pre-existing assets or financial arrangements. The shorter duration of the marriage may mean that there are fewer shared assets or financial dependencies to consider, and the contributions of each party may be less intertwined.

However, it’s important to note that the length of the marriage is just one factor among many that the court considers when determining a fair financial settlement. The court will also take into account factors such as the financial needs and obligations of each party, their respective contributions to the marriage, their future needs and earning capacity, and any other relevant circumstances.

Ultimately, the court’s primary objective is to achieve a fair and equitable outcome that takes into account all relevant factors and balances the competing interests of both parties, regardless of the length of the marriage. Each case is unique, and the court will consider the specific circumstances of the parties involved when making a decision on financial settlement.

What sort of financial provision would the court order in a short marriage?

The starting point for the court – as in all divorce / dissolution cases – will always be to establish both parties’ financial positions. This happens by way of application of the Section 25 factors listed under Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

When establishing the parties’ respective financial positions, the law places emphasis on the family’s standard of living prior to the marriage breaking down and there are many other factors considered including:

  • Income and earning capacity of the parties;
  • The assets and financial resources of the parties;
  • Ages of the parties;
  • Marriage length;
  • Future financial responsibilities and needs of the parties;
  • Health and / disabilities or other medical issues;
  • The welfare of any dependent children; and
  • Contributions made to the marriage.

When it comes to the duration of the marriage, it rather depends on how ‘short’ the marriage is. After marriages of extremely short duration (e.g. a few days or weeks), the court may order no financial provisional at all.

It will depend on the circumstances of the case, and an amount might be awarded to the economically weaker party to allow that person to exit the marriage without, for example, debts in relation to legal costs.

The court is more likely to enforce the sharing principle (equal division of assets) when dealing with long marriages. The longer the length of the marriage, the more likely the court will be to decide that all assets require equal sharing.

Whereas, in a short marriage the courts will more normally (but not always) divide the assets in line with the contributions made by each party to the marriage.

There is no hard and fast rule.

What approach will the courts likely take?

More recently, in cases where there is more available capital than is necessary to meet the parties’ needs, a short duration in a marriage might justify a reduction in what is awarded (known in legal terms as a departure from equality). The court will be concerned with achieving a fair settlement.

What represents a ‘fair financial settlement’?

Determining a fair financial settlement on divorce involves a complex and multifaceted assessment of various factors, with the overarching goal of achieving financial fairness and meeting the needs of both parties. While each case is unique and outcomes can vary depending on the specific circumstances, there are several key principles and factors that the court considers when determining a fair financial settlement, known as the Section 25 factors (as listed above).

It’s important to note that achieving a fair financial settlement often involves negotiation and compromise between the parties, with the assistance of legal and financial advisors. If parties are unable to reach an agreement, the court may decide based on the evidence presented and the applicable legal principles.

What if my property is held in my name only?

Regarding unilateral assets (where ownership is vested in one party), according to more recent case law, the duration of the marriage would be relevant.

It has been made clear in recent case law that the ‘sharing principle’ (that equal division should be the starting point) should be applied in most cases. However, the Court of Appeal clarified that in short marriage cases it would be required that the court consider all the circumstances of the case including the length of the marriage.

The court’s view therefore is that it might be necessary to depart from the sharing principle in order to achieve a fair outcome in a short marriage where there are assets held separately rather than jointly.

Of course, there are many other circumstances that the court will need to consider. For example, if both parties are working or otherwise have income sufficient to meet their outgoings. Also, if there are children to consider. There has been differing opinions given by some judges who have stated that it would be discriminatory for childlessness to make a difference when applying the sharing principle in a short marriage.

What is the court’s view when it comes to the needs of children in a short marriage?

The family court is very clear that priority will be the welfare and housing of any children (including stepchildren) under the age of 18 years.

If there are dependant children from the marriage, then the priority when deciding a financial settlement will be the welfare and housing of the children regardless of how long the marriage has lasted. When it comes to short marriages, the court’s view remains consistent with its overarching principle of prioritising the welfare of children.

Where a marriage has been short and there are no children, a financial clean break order may be considered more appropriate as both parties should already support themselves financially or at least be ready to within a limited and defined period.

Couples in a longer marriage are more likely to have children, so whichever parent becomes the primary carer is more likely to receive the majority share of the matrimonial pot dictated by their needs, although this will depend on individual circumstances and what assets are available.


The principle of equally sharing finances to achieve overall fairness between the two parties is usually applied to such short marriages where there are no dependent children; however, a straightforward 50/50 split may not necessarily be applied as the needs of each spouse, their earning capacity and financial contribution to the marriage will be taken into account.

The court will ultimately aim to achieve a fair and equitable outcome based on the specific facts and circumstances of each case, rather than relying solely on the length of the marriage. Therefore, while the duration of the marriage may be a relevant factor in some cases, it is not determinative, and the court will consider the entirety of the parties’ circumstances when making decisions about financial settlements.

Why should I use a family law specialist to advise on financial matters pertained to my divorce / dissolution?

Engaging a family law specialist to advise you on your divorce can provide invaluable support, guidance, and expertise throughout the process, helping you navigate the legal complexities, protect your interests, and achieve a fair and satisfactory resolution.

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