You may have seen in the media that Ryan Giggs, a former Manchester United Footballer, is entangled in an ongoing dispute with his ex-wife in respect of matrimonial finances (this includes properties, monies, shares etc.)
Mr Giggs’ lawyers have revealed to the High Court that they are seeking to rely on his ‘special contribution’ towards the marriage to establish this was of an ‘exceptional nature’. As such, they feel that it would be unfair to distribute the matrimonial pot equally following their divorce.
To support this claim, Mr Giggs’ team of lawyers have told the High Court that they will call witnesses in support of his genius which allowed him to contribute far more to the marriage than his wife.
If Mr Giggs is successful in proving his contribution to the marriage should be treated as a ‘special contribution’, the Judge presiding over the case will be able to depart from equality and use their discretion to determine what percentage both parties should receive following their divorce.
However, whilst Mr Giggs has had an extremely successful footballing career, has it been more exceptional than any other footballer, or indeed any other highly paid professional, and should it justify a departure from equality in the divorce proceedings?
It could be argued that if Mr Giggs is successful, a precedent will be set for future footballers, or other high net worth individuals, that are divorcing to claim their careers are exceptional, thereby weakening the concept of special contribution entirely.
In the recent case of Work v Gray  the Court of Appeal considered the concept of a special contribution, financially, and whether this justifies an unequal division of marital assets.
The background to this divorce case was as follows:
- The parties met and began living together in 1992, the parties then married in 1995 which subsequently ended in 2013.
- There were 2 children of the marriage.
- When the parties met, they were in good employment. The Husband studied for an MBA while the wife continued to work.
- Following this, the husband then gained employment in a private equity fund called Lone Star. The Husband worked for Lone Star in Dallas, Texas, Japan and Hong Kong before moving to England in 2008 when he left his employment at Lone Star. The matrimonial wealth accumulated primarily during the Husband’s time working in Japan for Lone Star. His total earnings exceeded $300 million.
The husband appealed an order, which stated him and his wife were entitled to equal shares of the matrimonial wealth. However, the Husband asserted that he had made a special contribution, financially, to the marriage and this justified an unequal division of the matrimonial wealth in his favour – 61% to the husband and 39% to the wife. The husband argued that there should be an unequal division because he made an “unmatched” exceptional contribution in comparison to the wife.
Putting this into context, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (MCA), sets out the criteria that should be considered when dealing with the financial assets of a marriage. The court considers “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”. Therefore this enables a variety of contributions made to the marriage to be taken into account, including; looking after the children of the family, taking care of the family home, financial contributions etc.
In the case of White v White , a precedent established that both parties to a marriage are equal and therefore the starting point to any division of assets should be a 50/50 split.
In respects of the above case, Holman J looked at previous case law for guidance on what counted as a special contribution. Lord Nicholls, in the case of Miller v Miller, stated:
“The characteristics or circumstances which would result in a departure from equality have to be of a wholly exceptional nature such that it would very obviously be inconsistent with the objective of achieving fairness for them to be ignored.”
And Baroness Hale states:
“Only if there is such disparity in their respective contributions to the welfare of the family that it would be inequitable to disregard it should this be taken into account in determining their shares”.
Given this guidance, Holman J decided that the husband had not made a special contribution to the marriage that was of a “wholly exceptional nature, nor that it would be very obviously inconsistent with fairness for them to be ignored”. He considered it would be gender discriminatory to make an unequal division in this case stating:
“This was a marriage of two strong and equal partners over 20 years. They each contributed in a range of differing, but all of them important, ways to a marriage and relationship which enriched them both, both financially and emotionally, as parents of their children and partners to each other”.
The Court of Appeal supported the judgement made by Holman J and dismissed the husband’s appeal stating the court is required to “look both at the nature of the contribution and to determine whether it derives from an exceptional and individual quality”.
Therefore, it is very difficult to depart from equality when dealing with the finances of a marriage; it is very much a balancing act to determine what is fair for all parties involved. This is because the contributions made by one party do not necessarily outweigh the contributions made by the other. For example, as in the above example it would be unfair to prejudice the home maker in favour of the bread winner solely because their contribution can be measured financially.
All the factors have equal status and it is for each party to present their case to the court based on the facts.
Here at PMC Family Law we are dedicated to helping our client’s achieve a fair divorce settlement. If you need honest, expert advice on divorce and financial matters, do not hesitate to contact us for your first free initial consultation on 0151 375 9968 or by email to .