When it comes to divorce, it is very common for one spouse to argue that he or she should receive the lion’s share of the marital wealth. However, as a guideline case, reviewed by Stuart Barton, concerning an entrepreneurial couple showed, fairness usually demands that an equal contribution to a marriage is reflected in an equal division of assets.
In the early days of their 15-year marriage, the wife acted as primary carer for their two children whilst the husband was the main breadwinner. Both were, however, impressive financial performers and their marital assets were worth almost £6 million. The majority of that – more than £4 million – was made up of their shareholdings in a company in which they had each held senior roles.
Both husband and wife proposed a division of assets that represented a significant departure from equality. He asserted that he should receive 60.9 per cent of the marital wealth, whereas she contended that 57.5 per cent of it should be allocated to her.
She pointed out that, whilst she was currently unemployed, he continued to work for the company and receive a substantial salary. He asserted that, post divorce, she would have the majority of their property and other tangible assets, whereas his financial future would be heavily reliant on the uncertain value of the company’s shares, which were not readily tradeable.
Ruling on the matter, a family judge was impressed by the wife’s commitment to hard work, tenacity and positive outlook. She was studying for a master’s degree at a leading university and had substantial future earning capacity. The husband took an optimistic view of the company’s future and it was his choice to receive most of his portion of the marital assets in the form of shares.
The judge concluded that the couple’s respective arguments in favour of a departure from equality broadly balanced each other out. The sharing principle and a roughly even division of the marital wealth represented the fairest outcome. The wife was awarded 50.1 per cent of the assets and the husband 49.9 per cent.
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