When an application is made for a financial order by a husband or wife, there are a number of factors the Court have to take into account under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

These include for example length of the marriage, income and capital of the parties, age and health of the parties with any minor children of the marriage being the first consideration.   The Court may also take into account – in it’s discretion – conduct and/or contributions of the parties.   For the Court to take into account, the conduct/contributions have to be exceptional.  And exceptional really does mean exceptional.  When the Courts do recognise special contributions in a matrimonial case legal commentators have likened it’s application to the sighting of a white leopard.

Conduct – bad behaviour in the proceedings – litigation misconduct –  is usually penalised by an order for costs.  Outside of that, the case law has centred around husbands or wives causing their former spouses physical harm which prevents the Injured party from leading a normal life.

Contributions – there have been a number of cases about contributions – which are the flip side of bad conduct.  These cases have normally been about very very successful men who have made fortunes through their own business acumen.  The starting point in financial applications, after the case of White -v- White – is to first of all to look at what an equal split of the net assets gives; and then to make adjustments if necessary to achieve a fair and reasonable result.

However since that case there have been a number of cases where husbands have tried to argue that they should receive more than 50% because of their special contribution to the marriage.  These cases are interesting because they involve the super wealthy and famous and give a fascinating insight into how the super rich live and spend their money.  Ryan Giggs the Manchester United player (now retired) was going to argue that he had made a special contribution by his gifts as a footballer – but he then reached a settlement with his wife Stacey Cooke.

One of the first cases (after White) involved the divorce of the man Mr.Cowan who invented the concept of the bin liner which could be rolled up to sit on a supermarket shelf. In that case, Mrs. Cowan was awarded 38% of the family assets (£4.4 million) and Mr. Cowan 62% (£7.1 million).  The Court held that a fair division did not necessarily require equal shares because of Mr. Cowan’s genius.

In a subsequent case in 2002,  Mr. and Mrs. Lambert’s family wealth was derived from publishing free newspapers such as Friday Ad.  In this case the ex wife was awarded half the couple’s assets of more than £20 million.  The Court held that it was unacceptable to rate the husband’s contribution as breadwinner in a long marriage as being greater than the wife’s contribution as homemaker.

In 2005 in the case of Sorrell the husband received 60% of the family assets.  Mr.Sorrell was a hugely successful businessman, with a very high earning capacity,  who for example enjoyed a car parking space at Harrods.  The assets were in the region of £75 million (net).

Perhaps the best known case is that of Sir Paul McCartney’s divorce from Heather Mills.  They were married for around 4 years and had one child Beatrice.    Heather Mills sought £125 million  but was awarded £24.3  million.  This was a short marriage and Sir Paul McCartney undoubtedly  had the spark of genius as a result of his long career as a musician and songwriter.  However this decision may be more about Heather Mills being criticised for her “make-belief”, inconsistency and inaccuracy during the 6 day hearing.    She also sacked her legal team and flung water over Sir Paul’s solicitor Fiona Shackleton.

There has been a recent case where the husband’s special contribution was recognised – XW -v- XH 2017 – as a result of the spectacular growth in the value of assets during the marriage.    At the time of the marriage in 2008, the husband had assets totalling approximately £3.8 million.  As a result of the sale of his company, and brilliant investment decisions,  by the time of the hearing in 2017 the husband’s wealth was in the region of £500 million.

So special contribution, as an argument,  is still alive and kicking though still very rare.  The Courts dislike the concept because it is seen as highly discriminatory favouring the person who accumulates vast wealth at the expense of the other spouse who is the homemaker and makes all the domestic contribution.  Running the argument also involves the unattractive spectacle of one party running up a huge amounts in lawyer’s fees to brag about their own self imagined genius; whilst the other party counts such arguments by describing their former spouse as a bad parent and spouse.

For further information in relation to the factors that are relevant in a financial application between husband and wife please contact us on our website at www.harneywells.co.uk or by e mail at enquiries@harneywells.co.uk.