22 Jan 2020
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When celebrity couples divorce, there is always media speculation regarding why the marriage ended. When the couple in question have only been married for a short time, as with Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth, who recently announced their separation after eight months of marriage, the speculation is even greater.
Not only are the reasons for the breakdown considered, but also the reasons that they married in the first place. In the case of Britney Spears, whose 2004 Las Vegas marriage lasted 55 hours, it is probably safe to assume that not much thought went into getting married. However, Miley and Liam first started dating 10 years ago, and while the relationship may not have endured for that whole period, they certainly seemed like a happy couple when they married on 23 December 2018.
It is not only celebrity couples who divorce after being married for only a short period of time. It's possible Miley and Liam have a prenuptial agreement which will determine their financial settlement, but for those without such an agreement, it's worthwhile considering how such a short marriage might impact a financial settlement for a less wealthy couple in England.
One of the factors that a judge has to consider when deciding upon a divorce settlement is the length of the marriage. A short marriage is likely to be considered differently to a medium or long marriage. When considering the length of the marriage the court will take into account any preceding period of cohabitation which moves “seamlessly” into marriage. Some couples who separate after having been married for a short time may have lived together for many years before they married. In that scenario, the length of the marriage includes the period of cohabitation, so it may be treated as a medium or long marriage by a judge. As to what constitutes a medium or long marriage, the former would be around 10 years, the latter around 15 years, but this is only a guide and may vary depending on the judge and the personal circumstances of the couple.
A short marriage does not always mean that each spouse should keep their own assets and walk away with what they brought into that marriage. The most important factor that a judge has to consider is need. So if one spouse has significantly more money than the other, a judge may consider it appropriate for the less well off spouse to receive capital from the other to help them meet their housing needs. They may also consider that an additional sum of money should be paid to fund the less wealthy spouse’s income needs for a short period, whilst they increase their income.
However, If the couple have a child, the length of the marriage will usually not be that important a factor, unless there are significant assets. Need and particularly the needs of a young dependant child are the most important factor that a judge must consider, short marriage or otherwise.
It should be noted that judges are likely to deal with the “matrimonial home” differently to other assets. If the house is owned jointly by the couple they are each likely to receive half of the equity, even if one of them funded its purchase. And even if the house is not jointly owned, a judge is likely to say that the starting point is an equal division of the equity, although they may move away from this if one spouse has contributed significantly more financially to the property than the other, provided that both spouses’ needs are met. The outcome of every case will be different as its specific set of facts will be considered by a judge.
With regard to the divorce itself, in England a couple cannot get divorced unless they have been married for one year and a day. So if Miley and Liam were to get divorced here, they would have to wait until December 24 2019 to start divorce proceedings.
"One of the factors that a judge has to consider when deciding upon a divorce settlement is the length of the marriage."
Fiona Wood, partner
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