It is obviously not unusual that one party to a marriage will contribute much more financially to the marriage than the other party. Not unnaturally, that party may believe that that contribution should entitle them to a greater share of the assets on divorce.

But the law does not operate in a simplistic fashion whereby each party’s share is determined by reference to their financial contribution towards the marriage.

And thus various arguments have been devised over the years to persuade the court that a greater financial contribution should indeed result in a greater share.

In a recent family law Court case of DR v UG the husband raised two such arguments.

But before we look at that case we should briefly examine two basic aspects of the law used to determine financial remedy claims on divorce, as they are both relevant to the arguments that the husband raised.

The sharing principle

The first aspect is the approach of the court to the relative contributions of the parties to the marriage.

When deciding a financial remedy claim the law requires the court to take into account the contributions which each of the parties has made or is likely in the foreseeable future to make to the welfare of the family, including any contribution by looking after the home or caring for the family. Thus ‘contributions’ are specifically not limited to contributions of a financial nature.

And as Lord Nicholls explained in 2000 in the seminal House of Lords case White v White: “If, in their different spheres, each party contributed equally to the family, then in principle it matters not which of them earned the money and built up the assets. There should be no bias in favour of the money-earner and against the home-maker and the child-carer.”

In the later case of Miller and McFarlane Lord Nicholls pointed out that marriage is a partnership of equals. Thus: “When their partnership ends each is entitled to an equal share of the assets of the partnership, unless there is a good reason to the contrary. Fairness requires no less.” This is the ‘sharing principle’.

Note the words “unless there is a good reason to the contrary.”

The concept of ‘matrimonial property’

The second aspect is the concept that assets acquired during the marriage, through the joint efforts of the parties to the marriage, are known as ‘matrimonial property’, and therefore fall to be divided between the parties on divorce.

This of course means that other assets, such as assets acquired before the marriage, inheritance/gifts and assets acquired post-separation are considered to be ‘non-matrimonial’ and, arguably at least, may not be included in the ‘pot’ for division. (Although they may be shared with the non-owning party, if that is required to meet their needs.)

The husband’s arguments

And so to the arguments that the husband raised in the recent case DR v UG.

The first argument was that he had made a ‘special contribution’ that entitled him to a greater than half share of the assets.

We have seen this argument on this blog previously, in this post. As we explained there, ‘special contribution’ is a high bar, that will rarely be met, save in exceptional circumstances.

And so it proved here. Despite the fact that the husband had, through his business dealings, amassed almost all of the family’s £284 million fortune, the court did not find that to be so exceptional as to entitle the husband to a greater share.

The second argument related to the concept of matrimonial property. The husband sought to argue that at the time that the parties separated in 2019 his interest in his business was worth only £33 million, whereas when it was sold in 2022, it was worth over £250 million, an increase which the husband claimed was down to his creating an entirely new venture since the breakdown of the marriage.

Again, the court did not accept this argument, often referred to as ‘post-separation endeavour’, finding that there had in fact been no new venture – it was the same business that had been created during the marriage.

In the circumstances, there were no good reasons to divert from the sharing principle, and all of the assets were matrimonial in nature. Thus the court ordered that they be divided equally.