I’ve always thought it unfortunate that so much law relating to financial settlements following divorce relates exclusively to those of high wealth. It really is as if there is one set of laws for the rich and another for the rest of society.
One particular piece of such law is the ‘special contribution’ argument, also referred to as the ‘stellar contribution’ argument. The reasoning behind the argument runs thus: ‘My contribution towards the marriage was so much more valuable than yours that I am entitled to a greater share of the assets’. The argument was wheeled out in the recent High Court case Gray v Work where, I was pleased to see, it did not succeed.
I won’t go into the details of the case as it has already been written about here (and, indeed, I have already written about it myself), but essentially the husband’s case rested primarily upon the fact that during the marriage he had amassed a fortune of some £144,000,000, working for a private equity fund in Japan. However, the special contribution argument is a difficult one to win and Mr Justice Holman, hearing the case, was not persuaded that the husband had displayed the exceptional and individual quality that the law required. He had clearly been very successful at his job, but what he had done was not unique and there was also an element of him simply being in the right place at the right time. Further, his contribution was not unmatched: for twenty years the wife was a good wife, a good home-maker and a good mother – it was only because of her willingness to move and live in Japan that the husband was able both to work there and amass the wealth.
The husband also tried to run the argument that there was an extra and unmatched contribution by him because the children had primarily resided with him rather than with their mother during the last two years, when not away boarding at school. There was a period when the children were so affected by their mother’s affair that they were reluctant to spend time with her.
However, Mr Justice Holman was also (unsurprisingly) not impressed by this argument, saying:
“These are the sorts of sad minutiae of family breakdown which should not impact on overall outcome and which are dwarfed by the history of the preceding 20 years.”
So, a defeat for the special contribution argument. As you may have gathered from the above, I am not in favour of the argument so why am I not happy?
Well, because the case is a reminder that the concept of special or stellar contributions is still good law. But should it be? Isn’t marriage supposed to be a partnership of equals? So what that one party makes a vast amount of money (the usual reason for running the special contribution argument) – does that make them any better than the other party, who probably stayed at home and looked after the family? It’s just such a mercenary approach, to say that money is worth more than any other type of contribution. It can also be discriminatory, as very often it is only the husband who is in a position to make vast amounts of money, with the wife’s career being disrupted by having a family.
Regular readers of this blog may realise that I am not the first person here to criticise the special/stellar contribution argument. In fact, the purpose of this post is really just to add my voice to Marilyn Stowe’s in saying that perhaps it is time for the whole idea to be reconsidered. It seems to me to hark back to a previous time when equality was not considered to be the fairest starting-point and when the home-builder was not valued in the way that we now believe they should be.
As Marilyn so rightly said:
“It is marriage which should have the greater value in the eyes of the law, not eye-watering sums of money.”
Photo of Tokyo, Japan by Yukinori Hasumi via Flickr