When it comes to dividing finances and assets during divorce, several factors are taken into account. These are contained in section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and include things such as the age of the parties, their earning capacity, standard of living during the marriage or health matters. But does the length of the marriage make any difference to the extent of asset division? Read on to find out.
Over the years, case law has consistently highlighted that the longer the marriage, the financially weaker party will, if the matrimonial pot will allow, be given a settlement that ensures they are financially secure. In a longer marriage, the division is more likely to be equal or close to it, whether or not the parties’ wealth has come from one party.
What is considered a long marriage?
A marriage of fewer than 5 years duration is typically considered to be short. However, the length of time a couple may have lived together before getting married is also relevant. Where there is a period of ‘seamless cohabitation’ before the marriage or civil partnership, it is often added to the overall length of the marriage. In many ways, when you started living together, then becomes relevant instead of the date you married.
Case law in this area is unclear, for example twenty years ago, anything around 20 years duration was seen as long, but these days, it can be as short as 5 years.
What is considered a short marriage?
Marriages of less than 5 years are viewed as short, as set out above. Where a relationship is short, and there are no children, the court will generally consider an equal division of all assets accrued during the relationship to be appropriate. However, in relation to assets owned in the sole name of one person where the marriage has been short, they are less likely to be split 50:50. In this situation, it is more likely that the party bringing the asset into the marriage will keep it, or at least retain a greater share.
If both parties have brought similar wealth, have similar incomes and there are no children, the court will aim to be to restore each party to the financial positions they were in before getting married.
In short marriages, a ‘clean break settlement’ is also more likely to be appropriate and ensures that neither party has any further financial claims against the other in the future.
What if there are children from a short-term marriage?
The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 places the welfare of any children under the age of 18 as a primary consideration when deciding how matrimonial assets should be divided. Children of the divorcing couple, including stepchildren, will be given priority in any financial decision of the court.
Is age relevant as well as the length of a marriage?
There is no guidance in the legislation on what amounts to a long or short marriage. This is because each case is individual and rests entirely on those unique circumstances. Even when couples are nearing retirement age, the focus is likely to be more on pension sharing and provision to provide financial security since they have fewer years in which to accrue savings. Additionally, couples close to retiring are unlikely to be able to pay maintenance for more than a few years, so the division of savings and investments could also become a focus in a divorce settlement. As covered above, the marriage may be short, but how long did the parties cohabit before marrying? If this was lengthy, then it will be considered a robust determining factor when dividing matrimonial assets.
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