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| 1 minute read

How special is special? Departures from equality based on the special contributions of a spouse

In the recent case of DR v UG (2023 EWFC 68), the court rejected a husband’s claim to depart from an equal division of matrimonial assets based on his special contribution. He claimed that a departure was warranted because, through his own endeavours, an investment in a company had increased substantially.

Following the landmark case of White v White, a precedent was set to divide marital assets, where each person’s financial needs could be met by the assets available, by 50:50. Where needs are met it was accepted in White v White that there could be exceptions to the principle of equality based on a “special contribution” by one spouse, but only for good reason.

Here, whilst the court accepted that the husband’s efforts in turning an investment of £310,000 into over £250m was an “enormous achievement”, it was not enough to pass the "special contribution" test. This proves the extremely high bar set by the courts if a party wishes to depart from the principle of equality.

The court is reluctant to discriminate against each party’s role in the marriage and how this can impact their financial contributions. For example, here the wife argued she had made a “full contribution as housewife and mother” and “moved countries to benefit [her] husband’s career”. She also looked after their three children whilst her husband was away with work for 100 days of the year. Therefore, whilst the husband worked extremely hard to provide for the family, he was able to do so because his wife was at home looking after their children. The judge took this into consideration when deciding the outcome of this case.

In the judgment, it was also noted that the husband’s company had nearly failed in early 2022 and had been saved by the work of external consultants and not the husband. Ignoring the husband’s claim, the court divided the £284m assets equally.

This case proves once again that while the concept of special contribution is still considered by the courts, it is an argument which only seems to succeed in the most exceptional of circumstances.

Spouses wishing to run a special contributions argument should think carefully before embarking on what will almost certainly result in complex and costly litigation, and specialist family law advice is essential.

I do not find the work of the Husband in this case to be of such a “wholly exceptional nature such that it would be obviously inconsistent with the objective of achieving fairness for (his work) to be ignored”.


family law, private client