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Does The Length of Marriage Affect a Divorce Settlement?

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    Various factors can affect financial order decisions used to set out the financial arrangements between the two divorcing parties (known as the divorce settlement).

    But does the length of marriage affect divorce settlements in the UK? Yes, the length of the marriage can have a significant impact on the determination of a divorce settlement.

    We’ll explore the potential differences in divorce settlements for both short and long marriages and explain how and why they might differ.

    Key Points About Length of Marriage

    • In short marriages, couples can often get a clean break divorce and leave the marriage financially independent of each other.
    • Long marriages (those over 5+ years) are likely to result in an equal division of assets, regardless of which party has the wealth.
    • Assets owned by one party will likely become ‘mingled’, the longer the marriage, meaning that assets classed as non-matrimonial can be considered if needs cannot be met by matrimonial assets.

    What does the law say about the length of marriage?

    According to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, when it comes to deciding how to divide the ‘matrimonial pot’, the pool of assets that needs to be split between both divorcing parties, the court has regard to the following matters (summary):

    • The income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources that each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future, including in the case of earning capacity any increase in that capacity which it would in the opinion of the court be reasonable to expect a party to the marriage to take steps to acquire
    • 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 age of each party to the marriage and the duration of the marriage

    Therefore, the Matrimonial Causes Act clearly states that the length of the marriage does have a bearing on the eventual divorce settlement.

    One of the most common questions we receive over the phone at Divorce-Online is “How long do you have to be married to get half?”. The length of marriage is one of the main factors that will dictate how much you get in a divorce settlement.

    However, other factors that will determine whether you get half will include the ages and financial needs of both parties, along with the standard of living enjoyed by the couple.

    To get half in a divorce, you should look at all of the factors involved and know that 50/50 is a starting point. It’s unlikely you will end up there as factors such as who was the homemaker vs breadwinner will come into the equation, which affects needs and entitlements.

    The easiest way to find out what your financial agreement could look like is to use our divorce asset calculator to get a customised report detailing your assets.

    Short Marriage Divorce Settlement UK

    What’s considered a short-term marriage? 

    As a general rule, a marriage that has lasted less than 5 years is considered to be a short marriage.

    What does a short divorce settlement look like? The general principle is that the matrimonial pot should be divided equally upon divorce. The starting point is a 50:50 split of the matrimonial pot.

    The longer a marriage has lasted, the more likely it is that a court will decide that all assets need to be equally split between the divorcing parties, irrespective of where these assets came from.

    Conversely, in the case of a short-term marriage, the court is more likely to divide the assets in line with the capital contributions of each party.

    When we talk about the ‘matrimonial pot’, this does not always mean just the assets you own jointly, e.g. property and savings. The overall matrimonial pot can include non-matrimonial assets if the value of jointly owned assets is insufficient to meet the needs of both parties.

    Know your rights before agreeing to a financial settlement by looking at the law on matrimonial vs non-matrimonial assets in divorce.

    Short marriage divorce settlement example:

    Jack and Jill get divorced after just two years of marriage. Jill was a wealthy woman upon entering the marriage whereas Jack was destitute.

    In this scenario, Jill will likely be able to retain most of her assets upon getting divorced; the court is unlikely to split the matrimonial pot 50:50.

    Long Marriage Divorce Settlement UK

    What’s considered a long term marriage? 

    It is not entirely clear what is considered a ‘long’ marriage by the courts. In the Court of Appeal case of Sharp v Sharp, even though the marriage lasted around 6 years, it was still considered to be short enough to deviate from the 50:50 split.

    How does a long-term marriage settlement differ from a short-term marriage settlement? 

    Courts are more likely to enforce a 50:50 split of matrimonial assets in a long term marriage, subject to other principles such as fairness and the welfare of any children under 18.

    Long marriage divorce settlement example:

    In the example of Jack and Jill above (i.e. where Jill entered the marriage rich and Jack was poor), if the marriage lasted a decade instead of two years, it is likely that Jack and Jill would exit the marriage as financial equals.

    What are the best financial options for short-term marriages?

    In the case of short-term marriages with no children, the divorcing parties will likely want to try and put themselves back in the respective financial position they were in before entering the marriage.

    It may therefore be a good idea to sell the matrimonial home (ie if they bought a house together) so that the money can be divided up accordingly. 

    Before making financial decisions, you need to know what you’re entitled to in a divorce. The best way to do this is by receiving legal advice.

    Everything You Need To Know…

    FactorsWhat factors does a Judge consider for a financial order?

    This article is all about the length of marriage and how that can affect the outcome of a divorce settlement. The length of marriage is just one factor the court will review when deciding on your financial order.

    Various other factors will come into play. The reason the length of marriage is important is because this usually dictates what type of court order you’ll need and how complex the division of assets will be.

    Here is a breakdown of all the factors a Judge considers when deciding on your divorce settlement.

    DIYCan we arrange the divorce settlement ourselves?

    Yes, you can. This is what is commonly known as a kitchen table divorce settlement. It describes when a couple reaches an agreement between themselves without the involvement of legal professionals, such as solicitors.

    Receiving legal advice is always recommended to ensure you understand your rights and obligations. Knowing your divorce rights is the only way you can truly reach an agreement that is fair and reasonable.

    Coming to an amicable agreement over the division of assets can be tricky, depending on the length of your marriage. Short marriages are more suited to kitchen table style agreements, whereas longer marriages may require the assistance of a solicitor.

    ExamplesIs there such a thing as a typical divorce settlement?

    There is no set formula for dividing money and assets upon divorce. The starting point will usually be a 50/50 split before looking at parties’ needs, standard of living, role within the marriage, and so on.

    So, whilst divorce settlements are unique due to them being based on the divorcing couple’s financial circumstances, there are typical examples of divorce settlements you can use as guidance.

    5 YearsWhat are the rules for financial settlements after 5 years?

    A long marriage in today’s world could be a marriage that has lasted 5 years, whereas in times gone by a long marriage would have been one that lasted 20 years.

    There is no one-size-fits-all formula to calculate a divorce settlement after 5 years of separation. It will depend on the mingling of assets, any children, the needs of both parties, amongst various other things.

    However, case law over the years consistently shows that in longer marriages the financially weaker party will be awarded a divorce settlement that allows them to be financially secure after the divorce. This is irrespective of whether the wealth of the couple was owned or accumulated by one party.

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    What if there are children from a short-term marriage?

    The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 places a priority on the welfare of any children under the age of 18 when it comes to deciding how to split the matrimonial pot, noting that any decision should be made with the: “first consideration being given to the welfare while a minor of any child of the family who has not attained the age of eighteen.

    So the welfare of children will be the primary consideration, irrespective of how long the marriage lasted – or indeed any other factors. Children of the divorcing couple (including step children) who are minors will be given priority in any financial order decision of the court.

    What are the best financial options for long-term marriages?

    Long-term marriages are more likely to have produced children.

    In this case, whichever parent becomes the primary carer is likely to receive the lion’s share of the matrimonial pot (although this depends on the total value of assets).

    If there is a matrimonial home, often the mother will remain there with the children, and the father will agree to pay the mortgage and other regular maintenance payments.

    It’s always advisable to seek legal advice from expert financial settlement solicitors to understand your specific entitlement to assets in a divorce.

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