It has been an exciting few weeks in the world of divorce settlements. Less than a month after American Billionaire Harold Hamm was ordered to pay his ex-wife almost $1 billion, the UK’s largest divorce pay-out has hit the headlines as Mrs Justice Roberts ruled that Ms Cooper-Hohn is entitled to £337 million following her divorce from philanthropist Sir Chris Hohn.
Although the size of the couple’s wealth was a source of contention throughout the trial, it has been reported that they had assets worth more than £700 million, which means that Ms Cooper-Hohn has been awarded about 40% of the wealth. This near to equal split is miles apart from the Hamm settlement, which although saw Mrs Hamm receive a much greater sum, actually only represented one tenth of the Hamm’s fortune. The large discrepancy between the percentages awarded to the ex-wives highlights the generous awards that are often made by UK judges, which – some would argue – secures the UK’s position as the divorce capital of the world
Attempting to depart from an equal split, Sir Chris Hohn argued that he had made a special contribution that justified him retaining three-quarters of the wealth. Counsel for Sir Hohn, Lewis Marks QC explained, “The husband was the sole decision-maker in this enterprise. Without him there is no business.” Ms Cooper-Hohn strongly disputed this claim. She stated that she had worked long hours on behalf of their charitable foundation, The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. She also claimed that she had been the one to turn her ex-husband’s attention to charitable giving, stating that when they met he had only been interested in making money.
Although the full judgement has not yet been published, what we currently have appears to reiterate the principle that one spouse’s contribution should generally not be viewed as being superior to the others. Although Sir Hohn argued that he had made a stellar contribution by claiming that he was the “unbelievable money maker”, it appears that this was rejected and, instead, the court reemphasised the Lambert principle. As Thorpe LJ had pointed out in this 2002 case, “Special contribution remains a legitimate possibility, but only in exceptional circumstances… The stellar contributor is a very rare creature, the likes of which would seldom be seen.”
Sir Hohn does not appear to have qualified as a ‘stellar contributor’. For this reason, the Hohn case highlights how difficult it is to displace the principle that both parties’ contributions should be viewed as equal in the majority of situations. Realistically, it will likely have been the support of his wife that allowed Sir Hohn to have progressed so far in his career. Be it the emotional aid or practical assistance, such as caring for their four children and her position as chief executive officer of the ex-couple’s charity, Ms Cooper-Hohn’s actions will have aided Sir Hohn in achieving such a high level of success.
Despite the sizable figure that has been awarded to Ms Cooper-Hohn, it has been reported that she intends to appeal the decision, presumably on the ground that there should have been an exact 50/50 split. Without the full judgement it is impossible to understand Mrs Justice Robert’s logic when dealing with this case and we will therefore await with bated breath its release on 12 December.