Does the length of the marriage affect the divorce settlement?

There are many factors the court considers when assessing how a couple’s matrimonial pot should be divided. But is the length of the marriage one of those factors? And if so, to what extent? In this article, we take a look at what to expect depending on the length of the marriage.

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Divorce law is governed by a complex set of rules and principles that aim to provide a fair resolution to the financial aspects of a marriage breakdown. One question that often arises in this context is whether the length of a marriage affects the financial divorce settlement. While the length of a marriage can be a relevant factor in determining the settlement, it is by no means the only or even the most important factor. Instead, the courts take a holistic approach, and consider a wide range of factors to arrive at a fair outcome.

What is the best financial option for a short marriage?

Anything less than 5 years is generally considered to be a short marriage, although if the couple lived together before the wedding, that period of cohabitation could be taken into account and added to the period of marriage.

In short marriages, the financial settlement might be simpler. For instance, if a couple has been married for a brief period and has not had children, their financial ties may be limited. The court here may be more inclined to consider a clean break, where each spouse walks away with what they brought into the marriage. Clean break settlements can also remove the possibility of claims being made against the other party in the future. However, even in these cases, other factors, such as the individual financial contributions during the marriage and future earning capacities, will also be considered.

Is a clean break settlement more likely in a shorter marriage?

A clean break settlement, where both spouses completely sever financial ties following divorce, is generally more likely in shorter marriages. A clean break is often seen as a desirable outcome, as it allows both parties to move forward with their lives independently and without ongoing financial obligations to each other. Shorter marriages typically involve fewer financial entanglements, making it more feasible to achieve a clean break.

Courts are more inclined to consider a clean break when the marital relationship has been relatively brief, especially if there are no children involved. This approach aims to ensure that each spouse leaves the marriage with what they brought into it and minimises the need for ongoing financial support.

What is considered a long marriage?

The duration of a marriage is not set out in law and there is no clear guideline on what is considered long by the court. The concept of the length of a marriage influencing a divorce settlement stems from the principle of needs and contributions. In general, the longer a marriage has lasted, the more intertwined the financial lives of the spouses become. Over time, couples tend to accumulate assets, debts, and responsibilities together. As a result, the court takes into account the length of the marriage when assessing the financial needs and contributions of each spouse.

In long-term marriages where couples have shared financial resources and responsibilities for many years, the financial settlement is likely to be more complex. The court may consider factors such as the standard of living during the marriage, the economic disparity between the spouses, and their respective financial needs. In such cases, a settlement may involve the redistribution of assets and ongoing financial support, such as spousal maintenance.

It is important to note that the length of a marriage is just one of many factors considered in divorce settlements. The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which governs divorce and financial settlements, emphasises the principle of fairness and ensures that all relevant factors are considered. These factors include:

  1. The financial contributions of each spouse, both during the marriage and in the future.
  2. The needs and financial obligations of each spouse, including caring for children.
  3. The age, health, and earning capacity of each spouse.
  4. The assets and financial resources of each spouse, including property, pensions, and savings.
  5. Any financial misconduct, such as hiding assets or dissipating funds.
  6. The standard of living enjoyed during the marriage.
  7. Any financial agreements or arrangements made between the spouses, such as prenuptial agreements

Ultimately, the court’s primary goal in divorce settlements is to achieve a fair  outcome based on the specific circumstances of the case. While the length of the marriage can be a relevant factor, it is not determinative in itself. Instead, the court carefully considers all relevant factors to ensure that both spouses receive a fair share of the marital assets and that their financial needs are adequately addressed.


Will I get spousal maintenance the longer the marriage?

Obtaining spousal maintenance becomes more likely as the duration of a marriage lengthens. Spousal maintenance is financial support provided by one spouse to the other after divorce or separation. The longer the marriage, the stronger the presumption that the financially weaker spouse may need ongoing financial assistance to maintain a reasonable standard of living.

In long-term marriages, where financial interdependence is often greater, courts are more inclined to award spousal maintenance if the available resources allow. This is because the law recognises that in such marriages, one spouse may have sacrificed their career or earning potential to support the family, and they should not be left in financial hardship after divorce because of it.

Longer marriages may lead to more substantial and longer-lasting spousal maintenance awards, especially when there is a significant disparity in income and assets between the spouses. It is essential to note that spousal maintenance is not an automatic entitlement, and each case is assessed individually. The goal is to achieve fairness and ensure that both spouses can maintain a reasonable quality of life post-divorce, with particular consideration given to the duration of the marriage and the financial contributions and sacrifices during that time.

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