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Do You Think I'm Special?

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The breaking news that Roman Abramovich is to divorce his wife Dasha Zhukova after ten years together will inevitably resurrect discussions about whether or not a spouse is entitled to more than half of the marital assets because of the special financial contribution they made during the marriage which provided the wealth and the luxury lifestyle.

This was Mr Abramovich’s third marriage and attention will focus on to what extent the fortune he made from his own endeavours before or even during the marriage should be shared with his third wife.  His lawyers are likely to argue that he had made a “special contribution”.

So, what falls into the “special” category? The wealth alone has to be so extraordinary in that it is easy for a spouse to argue that his or her contribution has an exceptional quality. A contribution has to be unmatched by any contribution made by the other half to the extent that it would be too unfair to ignore it. This is not related to the different contributions made by a wife and husband in a marriage such as a homemaker and a breadwinner. It has to be much more than that and it can only be recognised if it does not financially disadvantage the other spouse.  

Having experienced two divorces, Mr Abromovich may have entered into a pre-nuptial agreement with Ms Zhukova.  Whilst the English Courts are not required to bind a divorcing couple to a pre-nuptial agreement, these agreements are increasingly taken into account by judges provided they meet the legal requirements and the terms are found to be fair to both parties. If not, the Courts will make their own mind up about what is a fair settlement. In cases involving millions or in Mr Abramovich’s case, billions, finding the right balance can often be easier. The hardest cases to achieve a balance can be those when there is not enough money to go around and Judges have to make difficult choices about how to split money and property. The needs and welfare of the children are always the Courts paramount consideration.

So how special do you have to be to protect your fortune? The answer is very special indeed and it is only in the most exceptional circumstances that a court will find that a fortune should lead to a significant departure from sharing of wealth.  Mr Ambramovich may well fall into the “special” club in light of the vastness of his wealth, the source from which it came and the fact that a lot of his wealth was already made by him before he said “I do” to Ms Zhukova. We shall have to wait and see…………………!