Stellar contributions: I’m a celebrity get me out of here!

Family Law|January 30th 2018

A couple of cheeky lads from Newcastle made it big presenting children’s TV in 1994 and singing pop songs. Funny, bright and talented, since then their fame has spectacularly grown. Ant and Dec are the most well-known celebrity presenters in the UK, famous around the world. They are fêted by royalty, even invited to stay with HRH The Prince of Wales to present a TV programme. They are known as a rock solid gold, class act, and have now turned into production moguls themselves. It’s undeniably the case that whatever they touch turns to cash for them and those involved with them. They know what the public wants and they keep on giving it to them. While it’s easy to sneer, I’d say what they do is very clever and bang on the button. In 2016 they signed another exclusive three-year contract to present only for ITV, which is believed to have netted them, on that contract alone, a cool £30 million to add to their fortune. Their tills are ringing to the sound of mega success.

Both have, of course, been given an OBE and together they have received more awards than others could win only in their wildest dreams: 17 in the last 18 years for Most Popular Entertainment Presenter. Only 17 because in one year the awards didn’t happen at all.

Despite it all, they haven’t changed. They’re still laughing and joking, the people’s favourites, with a recipe for ongoing popularity that we perhaps haven’t seen since Morecambe and Wise in the 1970s. Even when Ant became ill last year, the country shared his heroic struggle, willing him on to get well for his stint on I’m A Celebrity in Australia. The programme would be unthinkable without him, and he didn’t let us down. Ant and Dec were soon back on our screens with their trademark humour, something that arguably makes the show as popular as it is. I will admit to watching I’m A Celeb every evening like clockwork, but the main reason for tuning in, and I suspect the same goes for most, is to watch Ant and Dec at their very best. They make the show.

But now Ant is getting divorced and that too is playing out across the media. So how much of his fortune will his wife actually receive?

While the tabloids wildly speculate about the possibility of her coming away with over £100 million, including an equal share of future earnings, top family barristers are thrashing that argument out on Twitter. One poses the possibility it might happen, the other that it won’t.

The media cite the case of footballer Ray Parlour with approval, saying it bodes well for Ant’s wife. But they overlook the fact that Ray Parlour, during his divorce from wife Karen in 2004, was locked into an ongoing pay off out of income because he didn’t have enough capital to buy a clean break. I suspect Ant certainly does.

Personally, I can’t see how Ant’s wife Lisa will succeed in obtaining a share of future income assuming there is enough capital to go around, but I’d like to throw another thought into the ring here as well.

Stellar contributions’ is a term used to describe a situation in which the court decides to depart from what might otherwise be an equal division of assets in divorce and award less to the ‘non stellar’ party because it wouldn’t be fair to overlook the stellar contribution. It’s not an easy argument to get home in court. The very best family lawyers heading huge law firms haven’t succeeded at times. The person has to have made a truly stellar, unmatched contribution to the family wealth. In family law this principle is usually applied to genius finance men like Sir Martin Sorrell or Sir Chris Hohn, both of whom paid less than an equal share to their wives when they divorced. The figure is usually about 37-40 per cent of the net assets to the wife on a clean break, thereby departing from the equal 50/50 division of capital.

But could it apply to Ant McPartlin?

Mrs Justice Roberts, at paragraph 282 of the Cooper-Hohn case, in the absence of statutory authority sets out the factors which might be required to find stellar contribution and thus depart from equality of division between the parties:

I. Can it properly be said that he is the generating force behind the fortune rather than the product itself?
II. Does the scale of the wealth depend upon his innovative vision as well as on his ability to develop those visions?
III. Has he generated truly vast wealth such that his business success can properly be viewed as exceptional?
IV. Does he have a special skill and effort which is special to him and which survives as a material consideration despite the partnership or pooling aspect of the marriage?
V. Would it, in all the circumstances, be inequitable for me to disregard that contribution?

I suppose what constitutes “vast wealth” is open for debate and at the end of the day the wife should be left staggeringly well off, with her needs more than catered for. Others who have succeeded have been nowhere near as wealthy as Sir Christopher Hohn. The Judiciary have made it clear that vast wealth, as in the case of Sir Christopher (over £1 billion), isn’t required, although it follows that in general the greater the fortune, the greater the departure from equality.

And doesn’t Ant fulfil all the rest of the criteria?

I reckon he and Dec are truly unique. It’s easy to be snooty about two lads on reality and gameshow TV, but no other living entertainment duo can touch them for their uncanny talent, popularity or longevity. They aren’t just good at what they do –  or even very good, I’d suggest they’re great- they stand out, year in year out. But to argue stellar contribution you need to be more than good and more than great. The word genius comes to mind. It underlines the need for a truly exceptional quality in the generating force of the fortune, one that it is rarely ever seen. This is a very high threshold, and rightly so. The word genius is used to emphasise the uniqueness of the requirement, as opposed to a business man who was simply very successful, very lucky or hard-working. For to value the contribution of a very hard working and very successful breadwinner over that of a hardworking and successful homemaker would amount to gender discrimination. So is Ant McPartlin a genius? I would say so, and I would suggest if Ant hasn’t done so already his lawyers answer back with the stellar contribution argument.

But who knows? We could speculate perhaps it was the stellar contribution argument that led to the request for post-divorce sharing in the first place!

Author: Benjamin Stowe

Benjamin was a solicitor at the firm's London office, specialising in all work relating to family law. He advised people on the practical, legal and financial consequences resulting from the breakdown of relationships.

Comments(2)

  1. Spike Robinson says:

    You’re hired, Benjamin! 😉

  2. Janet Pinder says:

    Very interesting read and convincing that this case does differ from that of Ray Parlour.

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