(You Drive Me) Crazy: Divorce after a Short Marriage

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(You Drive Me) Crazy: Divorce after a Short Marriage

Britney Spears may be my favourite music artist: don’t Hold It Against Me! A music superstar, a dancing diva, a pop princess – and a human one at that. She has been in the public eye for most of her life. We know everything about Britney, including her personal relationships, and we are all rooting for her successes both commercial and personal. It’s for this reason that recent news of her divorce has made headlines the world over.

Britney and her husband Sam got married in June 2022 after a six-year courtship. This is Britney’s third marriage. Her first, to Jason Alexander, lasted just three days in 2004. Her second, to Kevin Federline, lasted for three years and they had two boys: Sean and Jayden.

Britney is, sadly, not a Brit herself (despite her super convincing accent in Scream and Shout). However, Britney’s marriages offer us a prism through which to discuss short marriages and their treatment in English Law.

The case of Sharp from the Court of Appeal was previously the starting point when one considers a short, childless marriage. In that case, the parties were married for 4 years and had cohabited for 2 years before the marriage. The wife worked as a trader while the husband worked for an international IT company. While both were successful, the Wife’s bonuses amounted to £10.5m during the marriage. The parties were in their early forties and had no children.

Lord Justice McFarlane in his judgment said that a combination of potentially relevant factors like a short marriage, no children, dual incomes, and separate income is sufficient to justify a departure from the equal sharing principle. This may, therefore, mean that Lord Justice McFarlane would draw a distinction between Britney’s marriage with Sam (with whom she shares no children) and Britney’s marriage with Kevin (with whom she shares two children).

However, a short and childless marriage is not in and of itself a reason for a departure of equality which should be considered on a case-by-case basis. The decision in the case of E v L made this very clear and the position previously outlined in Sharp was rejected. In that case, the Judge took umbrage with the idea that having no children demonstrated a different category of commitment, saying this line of judgment should be avoided at all costs. Likewise, he said that while the length of the marriage remains one of the statutory factors, it will be a rare case indeed where a short marriage will automatically mean a departure from equality.

The reality is that if and how particular assets will be shared on divorce is fact specific to the circumstances of a particular case. So, if you are not In the Zone and it’s feeling a little Toxic, consult a family lawyer at the first opportunity.

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