Kim Kardashian, the American reality star, has recently made the headlines for separating from her husband after only 72 days. Renee Zellweger made headlines a few years back with her marriage only lasting 4 months and Britney Spears is renowned for having annulled her marriage after 3 days. These are obviously very short marriages but what in law is considered to be a short marriage? When do people stop being called “newly weds”?… after 6 months, a year, 2 years?
The importance of a clear legal definition would obviously be helpful when determining financial arrangements as in a short marriage, a couple as a general rule can expect to leave the union with whatever they brought to the marriage. Property rights would also be taken into consideration at the time. It would obviously be more beneficial and likely for a couple to have a clean break where there has been a short marriage so that they are not “tied” by maintenance to the other. If however there are children borne of a short marriage then the length of the marriage is less significant as one party is obviously going to struggle more to have financial dependence whilst raising the children and being the primary carer. In the case of a long marriage, a couple are more likely to be entering retirement age and thus will have less financial independence than a couple in the early stages of their life who can go on to work for longer, borrow money for home loans, marry again, etc
In law there is really no clear definition of a short marriage. What would be considered a short marriage these days? In Miller –v- Miller 2006, the renowned case law, the marriage only lasted just under 3 years and was considered short justifiably by the trial judge. Based on past cases perhaps up to 5 years, or even as much as up to 10 years would constitute a short marriage? A medium length marriage would then be 10 years plus and a long marriage 20 years plus? There is nothing to clearly quantify these amounts.
Although a shorter marriage would in theory constitute a lesser financial settlement if a couple had lived together before marriage or a civil partnership, a court could take into account the cohabitation if it “flowed seamlessly into marriage” and there was no intervening period of separation and thus the financial gain could be more substantial.