Will the Welsh Wizard mesmerise the Family Court?

Does a special contribution in a career equate to a special contribution in a marriage?

Have people who have made more money in a relationship claim they ahve made a special contribution to a marriage?

Ryan Giggs was a special football player. Some would say a one man club and a magician on the pitch. There is no doubting this man’s talents as a football player.

Mr Giggs, however, has reportedly had some difficulties off the pitch and recently it has been reported that Mr Giggs and his estranged wife Stacey are involved in an acrimonious divorce. In addition to that, there is a bitter dispute over the finances accumulated in the marriage. None of this is unusual in divorce and financial relief cases. However, what Mr Giggs is reportedly trying to argue at the Family Division of London’s High Court, is that he made a “special contribution” to the creation of wealth during his marriage. Furthermore, it is reported that Mr Giggs will call witnesses to corroborate his claims.

It is well known by family law practitioners and the Courts that extremely wealthy persons are required to prove that they have made a special contribution to avoid the marital pot being split evenly in two. It has in the past been said that millionaires must show “X factor” in order to justify the special contribution stance/argument.

The concept of “special contribution” effectively derived from the case of White v White (2000) which determined that to base a spouse’s financial award upon his or her ‘reasonable requirements’ was discriminatory. It assumed that the party who made the money had made a greater contribution to the marriage than the party who carried out a domestic role. White established that the two traditional roles of breadwinner and homemaker were equal, and therefore, this should be reflected in the division of assets if the couple divorced. This essentially commenced the contribution debate.

However, the case of Cowan v Cowan (2001) made clear that Mr Cowan gave a ‘truly exceptional’ contribution given his ‘entrepreneurial flair, inventiveness and hard work’ which resulted in him being awarded 62% of the assets.

Conversely, the case of Robertson v Robertson (2016) whereby Nick Robertson, the founder of ASOS, argued that he had generated a special contribution to the marriage (with the foundation of ASOS). Mrs Robertson refused to accept the £30 million offered by Mr Robertson to settle the matter. Mrs Robertson wanted her share of the marital fortunes to reflect accurately her contribution to her husband’s success during their nine-year marriage – and asked for nearly £110million.The High Court judge awarded her £70 million - a third of Mr Robertson’s fortune. Mr Justice Holman rebuked the husband while curbing the excesses of the wife but in so doing reiterated the point that marriage is a partnership of equals. While he acknowledged that Mr Robertson was the “money-maker” he said Mrs Robertson had been “an excellent homemaker and an excellent mother” to the couple’s two daughters.

Taking the above into account, ‘special contribution’ clearly exists and is considered by the Courts. However, it does lead to the debate; when exactly is a contribution classed as ‘special’? The existence of special contribution can lead divorcing couples to inundate the courts with details as to the ins and outs of who did what during a marriage in order to sustain the ‘special contribution debate’. The courts have recognised this risk and have clearly stated that:

 ‘a general rummage through the attic …is not required’ and whilst it is not easy to define what may amount to ‘stellar’ or really special contribution….rather like the elephant, it is not difficult to spot when you come across it.’

Whilst it can be argued that clearly  ‘special contribution’ will only be recognised in the most unusual cases, the debate does rumble on, given the awkward point that ‘special contribution’ struggles to fit with the determination by the courts in White that the breadwinner and homemaker’s contributions should be viewed as equal.

The Welsh wizard is fortunate he is dealing with the Court’s in England and Wales and not the jurisdiction of Australia who have labelled the notion of ‘special contribution’ a “terrible mistake”. The question is, will the Court look at Mr Giggs case and apply the principles in White and/or Robertson or do they recognise the points highlighted in Cowan. Ultimately, there is a clear debate to be had regarding whether an individual’s occupation should equate to her or him bringing a ‘special contribution’ to the marriage. That aside, we then get into the realms of the type of occupation or business that one has started. Ultimately, all footballers who play at the very top earn a great deal and the earning capacity of these sports persons could arguably be seen as not being a ‘special contribution’ to a marriage. But what about the individual talent of Ryan Giggs, he was exceptionally good at what he did but does that meet the test of bringing with him a ‘special contribution’ to the marriage? The Courts will decide.

If you would like any further advice on this or any other Family Law or Divorce matter please contact Giuseppe Pingerna, Solicitor within the Family Team on 01733 882800 or email directly.


Giuseppe Pingerna, Solicitor

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This article has been prepared for general interest and information purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. While all possible care has been taken in the preparation of this article, no responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by the firm or the authors.