The Court of Appeal has recently taken the significant step in departing from the “sharing principle” established by the House of Lords in the leading case of White v White  in a divorce between a very successful energy trader, Mrs Julie Sharp, and her IT consultant husband.
In 2015, the High Court found that there should be an equal division of the assets, which amounted to the husband being awarded £2.7 million of the marital assets on a clean break basis. The wife appealed this ruling on the basis that there were two related, but distinct, features marked out by the House of Lords in another leading case being Miller v Miller  for a different approach to that of equal division. The first being that this was a short, dual career, childless marriage and the second that the parties had kept their finances separate. It was therefore Mrs Sharp’s case that her husband should only be awarded £1.3 million (being half of the combined value of the two properties). It was the husband’s case that marriage is an equal partnership and the principles established in White v White were intended for universal application.
Background of the case
As a brief background, parties began living together at the end of 2007 and married in June 2009. The wife applied for divorce in December 2013. Despite Mrs Sharp’s suspicions, the husband only admitted to an affair when giving evidence in May 2015. This amounted to a six-year relationship in total, a period which Sir Peter Singer described as “not so desperately short … as some, but still by no means lengthy”.
When the parties first married, they had relatively modest finances, earning around £100,000 each per annum. However over the central five years of the relationship Mrs Sharp received a very significant £10.5 million in bonuses in her role as a wholesale fuel trader. Both of the properties purchased during the course of the relationship where paid for exclusively by Mrs Sharp, although they were both held in joint names. Mr Sharp worked as an IT consultant during the majority of the relationship but took redundancy in October 2012 in order to project-manage the extensive renovations undertaken on the second house. Further, the couple kept their finances mostly separate during the relationship, often paying half of any utility bills and splitting restaurant bills between them.
In his discussion on the case, Lord Justice McFarlane stated that:
“Nothing that is said in this judgment is intended in any manner to unsettle the clear understanding that has been reached post-White on the approach that is to be taken to the vast majority of cases. The focus of the present appeal, which is very narrow, is upon whether there is a fringe of cases that may lie outside the equal sharing principle”.