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Family law: When a ‘special contribution’ just isn’t special enough

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A sponsored feature, from Harrison Clark Rickerbys Solicitors

Sopgie Scotcher, of Harrison Clark Rickerbys Solicitors
Sopgie Scotcher, of Harrison Clark Rickerbys Solicitors

When one partner is the major breadwinner and the other takes charge on the domestic front, it is established that there should be no bias in favour of the breadwinner when deciding how assets are divided when the couple separates, as long as each contributed equally to the welfare of the family.

But there are exceptions to this ‘sharing principle’, and factors such as the length of the marriage or special contributions may justify an unequal division of assets.

In one recent case, where the couple separated after seven years of marriage, the husband’s ‘special contribution’ proved to be a key issue.

A special contribution can occasionally tip the balance in favour of one party, but those cases are very much the exception. In general, a special contribution should only do that when it would be unfair to disregard an imbalance in the couple’s contributions to the relationship.

In this case, the couple have one child together who has significant disabilities. The wife carried out the vast majority of the care for the child during the marriage whilst the husband went out to work.

The husband had started a company before they married; it grew substantially after the parties married and the husband sold his shares during the marriage – in that time they had increased in value by about £293m.

When they separated, they could not agree on how to divide the assets and the wife applied for a financial remedy order. The judge decided that the wife should receive around 25 per cent of the growth in the husband’s company shareholding during the marriage.

She appealed, saying that she should receive 50% of the increase in value of the husband’s shares during the marriage – her reasons included:

  • The husband’s business assets built up during the marriage are ‘marital assets’, so should be shared equally.
  • The judge was wrong to find that the husband had made a special contribution. The wife argued that the judge failed to take into account her contributions as home-maker, focusing as he had on the financial contribution made by the husband and failing to balance that against her domestic contribution.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the wife and found the approach taken by the judge to be “deeply discriminatory”. They found that a large portion of the value of the husband’s shares were the product of endeavour during the marriage, so they were marital assets to be shared equally. The Court of Appeal ordered a much fairer split of the total marital wealth of £296.7m, and the wife received a lump sum of £145m.

For advice and help, contact Sophie Scotcher on 07570 683 519 or at sscotcher@hcrlaw.com.

Visit https://www.hcrlaw.com/.

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