Blog: How would the latest London mega divorce fare under Scots law?

Sally Nash

Sally Nash discusses how the latest record-breaking divorce case in England would be treated north of the border.

News broke this week that the ceiling for the biggest UK divorce award has been smashed by a City trader being ordered to pay his estranged wife £453 million.

Unusually, an order was also made by the court to conceal the couple’s identities, and exact details are a little scarce.

What we do know is that they married in 1993 and had two children together. This is therefore a marriage in excess of 20 years.

The husband had, during the conduct of the case, sought to advance arguments that he had made a “special contribution” to the creation of wealth during the marriage that ought to be taken into account in how the assets were divided, as should the fact that he had wealth pre-marriage.

The wife’s position was that her contributions as a wife and mother to the family during the course of the marriage were equal to the financial contributions made by the husband. The net outcome was that 41.5 per cent of the total marital assets were awarded to the wife, against a background of the judge having rejected the husband’s arguments.

Some commentators have pointed to the award as further cementing London’s reputation as the divorce capital of the world. The sums involved are of course staggering, but there must be a question mark over whether Edinburgh could have stolen London’s crown if the case had been heard here.

In Scotland, the matrimonial property to be divided is, in broad terms, any assets acquired during the marriage unless by gift or inheritance from a third party.

While the husband appears to have argued that he was wealthy before the marriage, at first blush there seems to be no suggestion that the pot actually consisted of assets which the husband had already owned prior to the marriage and which remained unchanged.

There seems therefore no reason to assume that if the case had been heard in Scotland, that the pot to be divided would have been any different than was under consideration by the English court.

If all of the couple’s assets were matrimonial property, the presumption in Scotland would have been to divide the pot 50/50 unless special circumstances justified otherwise.

Suffice to say that applying Scots law, a Scottish court would have been no more minded than it’s English counterpart to give the husband special credit for his money making prowess during the marriage.

A 50/50 division does seem that it would have been a likely outcome here. It’s a rare comment to make when comparing Scots and English family law, but it does seem that in Scotland we could have seen our mystery lady receiving even more of the pot.

This case is perhaps illustrative that if fishing for the best jurisdiction for divorce, London will not always be the safest port for the less well-off party.

  • Sally Nash is a senior associate at Gilson Gray.
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