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The relevance of contributions in a financial remedy case

As a family law solicitor, I have noticed that in the aftermath of many marriage breakdowns, second only to a complaint about bad behaviour on the part of one spouse, is an argument that one party believes that they have contributed more financially than the other during the marriage, and therefore this leads to a perception of unfairness when it comes to sharing the financial assets in divorce.  

Whilst the law provides a framework which allows consideration to be given to each parties contributions during a marriage, when dividing the family assets it will not be a successful argument to say ‘I earned more money during the marriage so I should get more in divorce’.  

Instead, for the majority of divorcing couples, if one spouse has worked full time throughout the marriage and contributed the lion’s share of the family’s income whilst the other spouse has worked part time or not worked and instead stayed home to raise the parties children and/or maintain the household, it is likely that a contribution argument will not be successful because one spouse’s contribution to the welfare and happiness of the family, as the homemaker and principle carer of the children, will be incalculable and will be seen as no less significant than the financial contribution brought to the marriage by the other spouse.  

This is because the general starting point when considering division of family assets, known  as matrimonial assets if they have been built up during the course of the marriage, is an equal division unless there is a good reason why this would not be considered fair, reasonable or in the parties interests.  Please bear in mind that what the court considers to be fair, what you consider to be fair and what your spouse considers to be fair may differ significantly.  

In limited cases, where one party feels they have made such an extraordinary contribution to the creation of the marital wealth that it would be unfair for this to not be recognised when dividing the assets on separation, their contribution could be seen as a ‘stellar contribution’ or ‘special contribution’. If this argument is accepted by the court, stellar contribution can provide a powerful shield against the argument of assets being shared equally.  

Be warned however, raising a stellar contribution argument is not easy and is only ever successful in exceptional cases and most likely, where considerable wealth is involved. For example, the special contribution doctrine was tested in 2017 in the Court of Appeal in a case known as Work v Gray. In this case, the marital wealth totaled approximately £225 million and even then, when considering a special contribution argument put forward by the Husband, who had accumulated all of this wealth during and throughout his employment, the court refused to accept his argument and summaried the following principles as relevant to succeeding in a stellar contribution argument. These principles included:  

  1. The circumstances of how the wealth was amassed must be wholly exceptional in nature, such that it would very obviously create an unfair outcome to ignore it  
  2. The court must not discriminate against the homemaker, in favour of the breadwinner 
  3. The parties needs must be met 
  4. Exceptional earnings are to be regarded as a factor pointing away from equality of division, when, and only when, it would be unjust to proceed otherwise  

In short, it is possible to argue that you should receive a greater share of the assets in divorce because of your ‘special’ or ‘stellar’ contribution. However, such arguments will only succeed in exceptional circumstances. In most cases, the court will consider that the respective contributions of both parties are equal to one another and therefore will not have any bearing upon the settlement.  

If you require financial advice on divorce, or any other related issue, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of our experienced family team on 0333 305 7777 or info@progressionsolicitors.com.

The content of this article does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon. Content may be subject to change and we accept no liability for individuals relying on the information within this article. Contact a member of our team for legal advice tailored to your individual needs. 

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Lisa Bell (formerly Lisa Martin), LL.B (Director) - Progression Solicitors, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria

Written by:

Lisa Bell


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