Love is blind… but what if it’s short?

With both Nick Thompson & Danielle Ruhl (Love is Blind season 2) and Mackenzie Scott & Dan Jewett (the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos and her new husband) set to divorce, the topic of short marriages is one that is bound to be on their minds. Both couples married in 2021 and are in the process of bringing their marriages to a legal end.  Here, Heather Lucy looks at how the length of a marriage may affect how assets are split upon divorce.

Both of the couples named above are based in the US but those thinking of divorce in England and Wales may be wondering whether the length of their marriage might impact their potential financial settlements on divorce.

There are no hard and fast rules, or formulas, that state how assets should be divided on divorce. The starting point for the court is that the assets should be divided equally, but they will then consider if there are reasons for moving away from an equal split, for example if assets are considered to be non-matrimonial, such as inherited assets or potentially assets acquired before the marriage. The court will also look at whether each person’s needs would be met by an even split. In making their decision, the court looks at the factors in Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which is a checklist of what they should consider. The primary consideration will be the welfare of any children of the marriage and other factors include the couple’s ages and the standard of living during the marriage. The latter would likely bode well for Mr Jewett if he were divorcing in England and Wales considering Ms Scott’s circa $34 billion net worth.

One of the factors to be considered under the Section 25 checklist is the length of the marriage. For the purposes of divorce, any time spent living together immediately prior to the marriage is added to the length of time since ‘I do’ to work out the length of the relationship.  There are no set definitions of ‘long marriages’ or ‘short marriages’. Marriages of 10 + years may be seen to be in the ‘long marriage’ territory and one lasting 5 years or less is generally seen to fit the description of a short marriage.

Spouses in a long marriage are seen to have more financial interconnectedness and their assets are more likely to be considered ‘mingled’. This means that the court is more likely to be persuaded that an equal division of the assets is the right approach.

If spouses in a short marriage have no children and are both earning, the court may decide that it is fair to move away from splitting their assets down the middle and instead try return each person to the financial position they were in prior to the marriage. This is made even more likely if the couple had kept their finances separate during the marriage. It is also more likely that divorcing spouses will be able to ‘ring-fence’ assets/property they have brought to the marriage which means that they are kept out of the ‘pot’ being divided.  The court will also heavily favour a ‘clean break’ if the marriage was short, if there are no young children, as they will want to cut financial ties between the divorcing couple. This means that it is unlikely that regular payments from one person to the other (maintenance) would be ordered, though it is not impossible.

It is important to remember that the court will look at what each person needs.  You might have a short marriage and have no children but, if a move away from equality would mean the other person cannot meet this housing and income needs, the court are unlikely to be persuaded that an equal division of the assets is not the right course of action.


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