Opinion  

Marry for love, divorce for money?

Hannah Field

Hannah Field

People marry for love, don’t they? This is certainly what people are led to believe.

The suggestion that people marry for money is something which is beginning to rear its head following the breakdown of a marriage or civil partnership.

If two individuals decide to get married or enter into a civil partnership they are making a firm commitment to one and other. That union it is understood is based on the concept of love and not on the idea that one individual will benefit financially from another.

The recent case of Ms Arnold and Mr Sharp has brought this very concept to the forefront of many people’s mind. Ms Arnold and Mr Sharp, throughout their marriage, kept their finances separate.

Ms Arnold was a successful City trader and Mr Sharp an IT consultant. At the time of the marriage both were earning a good salary. During the four year marriage Ms Arnold’s career took off and she received significant bonuses. It is understood these total £10.5m in a five-year period.

Ms Arnold discovered that Mr Sharp was having an affair and thereafter petitioned for a divorce. Ms Arnold states that it was Mr Sharp’s behaviour that brought the marriage to an end.

Financial remedy proceedings were commenced to deal with the finances connected with the marriage. Originally Mr Sharp received half of Ms Arnold’s fortune based on the principle of equal sharing of wealth generated during the marriage.

Ms Arnold appealed and the award was reduced but Mr Sharp still received circa £2m in capital. This was more than he had contributed to the marriage and more than he would have had in his sole name had the marriage continued.

Ms Arnold’s grievance with the outcome was that legislation governing this area is out of date. The law itself comes from 1973, though the concept of equal sharing of marital assets is something that only came about in early 2000s.

The law is clear though it does not look to behaviour when considering how to divide up the assets within a marriage. The court considers all assets built up during the marriage and then looks to divide them accordingly.

One way in which to avoid arguments and protracted court proceedings following the breakdown of a marriage or civil partnership is to enter into a prenuptial agreement.

Many countries make it a condition of marriage to confirm how the assets should be dealt with if the relationship breaks down. Maybe we should follow suit. Baroness Deech thinks so and believes that these should be compulsory and has called for reform.

Prenuptial agreements are an ideal way to record how assets should be dealt with following the breakdown of a marriage.