Does the length of marriage affect a divorce settlement?
Yes, the duration of a marriage does have an impact on the eventual divorce settlement. The courts are more likely to enforce a 50:50 split of matrimonial assets if the marriage is deemed to have lasted longer than a "short-term" marriage.
What is a “short-term” marriage?
There is no strict definition of what is considered to be a short-term marriage, but it is generally accepted that 5 years or less is a short marriage.
Having said that, the Court of Appeal has been known to deviate from this general principle with a marriage that lasted 6 years. Generally, courts are more likely to enforce a 50:50 split of matrimonial assets in a longer-term marriage, subject to other principles such as:
- The income, earning capacity, property, and other financial resources which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future.
- The financial needs, obligations, and responsibilities which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future.
- The standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage.
- The welfare of any children under the age of 18.
- The age of the divorcing parties.
So, the longer the marriage has lasted, the more likely the courts will decide that all assets are required to be equally split between the divorcing couple, irrespective of where the assets came from initially.
The opposite is usually true in the case of a short-term marriage, where the courts will normally divide the assets in line with the contributions made by each party.
This does not mean however that a 50:50 split would be inappropriate in all marriages that have lasted less than 5 years, it just means that the court would be more concerned to see where the assets had come from in this short length of time than it would after a 20-year marriage.
What about children in a short-term marriage?
Courts will place a priority on the welfare of any children, including step-children, under the age of 18. Therefore, irrespective of how long the marriage has lasted, children of the divorcing couple, if under 18, will be given priority in any financial order decision made by the court.
Where a marriage has been short and there are no children, a financial clean break order may be required by the court. This is because the court is more likely to conclude that both parties should be financially self-supporting either straight away or within a defined period of time than if they had been together for a much longer period.
Couples in a long-term 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, although this will depend on individual circumstances and the total value of the assets.
Does age matter along with the length of marriage in divorce?
As there is no guidance in the legislation on what constitutes a long or short marriage, each case is highly individual and requires the expertise of a family law solicitor.
Even when couples are nearing retirement age, the focus is likely to be more on their pension provision and financial security as they have fewer working years in which to build savings.
Also, a couple nearing retirement is unlikely to be able to pay maintenance for more than a few years, so the division of savings and investments would normally become the main factors to consider in a divorce settlement
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