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Fair Shares on Divorce?

Money disputes have always characterised divorce. How can one fairly divide up what two parties have come to own? In June 1999, New Scientist published an article, available from their web-site, which related an algorithm from America (patented of course, but that is a different story). The patent describes a method for resolving fairly, disputes between two individuals, about how to share between them several different assets. The implication is that this method would work in divorces.

Each party is given the same list of assets to be apportioned, and are allowed 100 points to be allocated as they wish between the several assets. Each asset is to be given to the party who values it most highly. At this stage nothing complicated has happened, and no equality has been achieved. The trick follows.

The item valued most equally by the parties is taken back, and sold. Thus, if A values the car at 34 and B values it at 35, and no other item in the list has such closely similar valuations placed upon it, then the car is taken back from B and readied for sale. The proceeds of the sale are then divided in proportion to the values put on that item by the two parties. In this case A would get 34/69 and B would get 35/69. Each party has then received overall, a precisely equal share of the assets on the list.

The algorithm is suprisingly effective. Providing they are sufficiently educated about the subtleties of the method, it allows a division which accurately and fairly represents the values of the parties. The important thing to note is that because the parties attribute value according to their own priorities, it fully allows them to reflect elements such as emotional attachment.

Sadly, the algorithm is usually unhelpful and irrelevant to English law. In the vast majority of cases, the children's needs must first be catered for, and they have no place in this calculation. Assets tend not to be as easily transferred between parties, and are not equally saleable. Equally, our law lists several matters which are to be balanced irrespective of the parties wishes. There is no universal presumption that any assets should be shared equally.

The magic in the calculation, or the cheat if you like, is that the parties are deemed to have turned all the complicated bits, their assessments of financial value, of emotional attachment, and sometimes, sheer nuisance value, into a simple list of numbers adding up to 100. Then the calculations take over. The reality in most relationship breakdowns is not at all so simple. There will be times, and marriages, and selections of assets, where such an approach will work, but there will be many when it will not.

Important: Please note that our law-bytes are retained for archival purposes only. The law changes, and these notes are often, now, out of date. You must take direct advice on your own personal situation and the law as it currently stands.
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