Divorce - Departure from Equal Division 'As Rare as White Leopards'

Equal division of assets in divorce is a norm that can very occasionally be departed from if one party to a marriage has made a stellar contribution to the marital wealth. However, as one High Court case made strikingly clear, such exceptions to the rule are wholly exceptional and – in the judge’s words – as rare as white leopards.

The case concerned a couple who had been partners for 29 years and had two children together prior to their separation. The husband had been married twice before and the wife was a shop floor worker in his factory when they met. His business had prospered mightily and the marital assets were worth £182 million.

The Court noted that the husband’s generation of such great wealth was a highly creditable achievement. However, his contribution did not approach the level of rarity that would justify what would otherwise be a highly discriminatory unequal division of assets garnered in the course of a long marriage.

After assets that the husband had brought to the marriage were taken into account, the Court found that the sum to be divided was £145,752,969. Of that, the wife was awarded £73 million. The husband was a highly active man who had no desire to retire from his business until the age of 75. In the circumstances, the Court directed that the wife’s award should be structured in such a way as to ensure that he would not have to sell his business before he wished to do so.