Short Marriages and the Sharing Principle

The case of White v White [2000] established the principle of equality of sharing upon divorce and stated that spouses should share “the fruits of the matrimonial partnership” equally. This general rule should only be departed from when there is a good reason for doing so. Understandably, it is possibly less reasonable to assume that the wealth of one party should be shared equally, in a marriage which has only lasted a couple of months, than in a marriage which has lasted numerous years. Under Article 27(2) (d) of the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, the Court shall have particular regard to the duration of the marriage when exercising its power in this regard.

One of the most recent cases exploring this principle was E v L [2021] EWFC 60. In this case, the husband argued that because the marriage was short (3-4 years) and childless that the Wife should not be entitled to an equal share of his wealth. This case took in to account a number of considerations. Firstly, when considering that the marriage was childless, Mostyn J dismissed this notion stating that “for the court to start asking why there are no children, and whether this denotes a lesser extent of commitment to the relationship, is to make windows into people’s souls, and should be avoided at all costs.”

The Court then considered whether the length of a marriage should give rise to a departure from the equality principle. Mostyn J noted that no distinction should be drawn between the assets accrued during a short marriage and assets accrued during a long marriage. He stated that there is no reason for these to be treated differently. He found that the difference lies in wealth accrued before the marriage. The statutory regulation in this regard is more to do with the fact that there is less likely to be the same amount of assets accrued over a short marriage than there is over a long one, overall contributing to the marital acquest.

To put it simply, this judgment found that the duration of a marriage should not impact upon the equal sharing principle. In reality, for a shorter marriage the division of assets is somewhat easier and more distinguishable. Whereas, for a couple who have been married for 30  years, the differentiating of assets is a more difficult task and this is most likely what Article 27(2) (d) of the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order refers to.

It is important to consider the principle of equality before entering in to marriage as it may create a financial burden for you if you decide to separate even if you have only been married for a short period of time. For helpful and friendly advice in relation to how to protect yourself financially upon relationship breakdown please contact Caroline Prunty or Clare Lenaghan on 028 90 20 00 50 or email  or