Avid viewers of Married at First Sight UK (on E4 at 9pm, most evenings) might have wondered what happens when a couple’s TV marriage lasts little longer than the length of the night’s broadcast, writes David Hodgson, a Partner in our Family & Divorce team.
Megan and Bob, and Alexis and Ant, split on the same episode. Happily a number of the couples, including Adam and Tayah and Dan and Matt were still going strong in recent episodes.
So, do Megan, Bob, Alexis and Ant need a divorce, an annulment or nothing at all to recognise their legal separation? According to the show: “While the UK and Australian versions of the show don’t require the pairings to get legally married, the American version of the show requires the contestants to legally get hitched. [In the US], the couples make lifelong commitments to each other in a ceremony, but as we’ve seen they don’t all last.”
However, the Family Court does have to decide what to do in cases where the marriage is very short, or which are childless. How should the proceeds of the marriage be divided up on dissolution?
Windows into people’s souls
Mr Justice Mostyn recently considered the principle of ‘sharing’ in the case of E v L  EWFC 60. The court has reconsidered how the sharing principle applies to marriages that are short and childless.
We’ve written frequently on this blog about the principle of ‘needs’ that is the provision of assets that will need to be divided up to meet both party’s housing and financial needs. The ‘sharing’ principle on the other hand is that each of the proceeds of the marriage will be divided equally unless there is a compelling reason not to.
In the case of E v L, based on the ‘sharing’ principle, the wife wanted half of the assets accumulated during the marriage which she calculated to be £5.5m, despite her being a housewife and being financially supported by the husband. He offered £600,000 based on the wife’s needs, conservatively assessed, as the marriage/co-habitation was childless and only less than four year’s old.
In his judgement Mr Justice Mostyn said it would be discriminatory of the courts to come to a decision about the sharing principle whether or not the couple had had any children, “In my judgment for the court to start asking why there are no children, and whether this denotes a lesser extent of commitment to the relationship, is to make windows into people’s souls and should be avoided at all costs.”
Regarding the length of the marriage – or cohabitation – the courts assess the value of the assets that have accrued since cohabitation or the marriage began – known as the ‘marital acquest’. In E v L, Mr Justice Mostyn said that, “There is absolutely no logical reason to draw a distinction between an accrual over a short period and an accrual over a long period.”
Consequently, in the case of E v L Mr Justice Mostyn, despite the judge disagreeing with the wife’s calculations, awarded the wife £1.5m, which equated to half the marital acquest, as calculated by the court. This included assets accumulated from the date the wife said cohabitation commenced, to the date of trial.
So, back to the separations of Megan, Bob, Alexis and Ant, even if they had been legally married, the value of their marital acquest would have been negligible and the recent case would have little effect on them. However, this may not be the case for other individuals where assets have significantly increased in value during their marriage and co-habitation.
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The above is accurate as at 05 October 2021. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.