News & Insights

Short Marriages and Matrimonial Assets

Unfortunately, some marriages are not for life despite making vows ‘until death do us part’. In cases where the marriage was only a short one, there are often difficulties assessing how the matrimonial assets will be divided when it reaches the financial stage of the divorce.

There are a number of factors the court will need to consider, one of which will be the duration of the marriage. However, it seems that in recent times, more people wait to get married and as a consequence, there is a period of time before marriage where a couple will have cohabited and acted like man and wife.

This was recognised in the case of GW v RW [2003] where it was held: “where a relationship moves seamlessly from cohabitation to marriage without any major alteration in the way the couple live, it is unreal and artificial to treat the periods differently”. The Court will therefore take into account a cohabitation period of 8 years prior to a 4 year marriage.

The sharing principle creates a starting point; assets are to be divided equally. Although in short marriages, this is often limited to assets parties have acquired during the course of marriage known as ‘matrimonial assets’. In short marriages, it is much easier to distinguish between the two types of assets. It may be that one party brought all of the assets into the marriage and only few assets have been acquired after the date of marriage.

It was held in JL v SL No 2 [2015]; “the court should always try to determine assets which are matrimonial and non-matrimonial assets (acquired before marriage). The matrimonial assets should be split equally and there should usually be no sharing of the non-matrimonial property”. There is emphasis on the word usually, because in cases where needs are a significant factor (i.e. the children) the courts will not distinguish between the assets if they are required to meet needs.