Family law: When a ‘special contribution’ just isn’t special enough

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A sponsored feature, from Harrison Clark Rickerbys Solicitors

Sopgie Scotcher, of Harrison Clark Rickerbys Solicitors

When one partner is the major breadwinner and the other takes charge on the domestic front, it is established that there should be no bias in favour of the breadwinner when deciding how assets are divided when the couple separates, as long as each contributed equally to the welfare of the family.

But there are exceptions to this ‘sharing principle’, and factors such as the length of the marriage or special contributions may justify an unequal division of assets.

In one recent case, where the couple separated after seven years of marriage, the husband’s ‘special contribution’ proved to be a key issue.

A special contribution can occasionally tip the balance in favour of one party, but those cases are very much the exception. In general, a special contribution should only do that when it would be unfair to disregard an imbalance in the couple’s contributions to the relationship.

In this case, the couple have one child together who has significant disabilities. The wife carried out the vast majority of the care for the child during the marriage whilst the husband went out to work.

The husband had started a company before they married; it grew substantially after the parties married and the husband sold his shares during the marriage – in that time they had increased in value by about £293m.

When they separated, they could not agree on how to divide the assets and the wife applied for a financial remedy order. The judge decided that the wife should receive around 25 per cent of the growth in the husband’s company shareholding during the marriage.

She appealed, saying that she should receive 50% of the increase in value of the husband’s shares during the marriage – her reasons included:

The husband’s business assets built up during the marriage are ‘marital assets’, so should be shared equally.

The judge was wrong to find that the husband had made a special contribution. The wife argued that the judge failed to take into account her contributions as home-maker, focusing as he had on the financial contribution made by the husband and failing to balance that against her domestic contribution.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the wife and found the approach taken by the judge to be “deeply discriminatory”. They found that a large portion of the value of the husband’s shares were the product of endeavour during the marriage, so they were marital assets to be shared equally. The Court of Appeal ordered a much fairer split of the total marital wealth of £296.7m, and the wife received a lump sum of £145m.

For advice and help, contact Sophie Scotcher on 07570 683 519 or at


Triple hire marks start of major recruitment drive for Simpson Millar’s family law team

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Member Article

Triple hire marks start of major recruitment drive for Simpson Millar’s family law team

Leading law firm Simpson Millar has announced the arrival of three new hires within its national family law team in a move which bolsters the firm’s private client offering across the UK.

The appointments signify the start of an ‘ambitious year of growth’ for the firm, with legal heavyweight and Partner Lorraine Harvey joining from Slater & Gordon where she led the Manchester-based family team, and Litigation Executive Chrissy Lightfoot joining from Belgravia based Law Firm Child & Child, where she assisted the former head of practice.

Alice Evans also joins as a Paralegal, having previously worked at Lupton Fawcett in Leeds.

David Lister, national head of the family law team, said plans were underway to further increase the team’s headcount by 12 over the coming months – doubling the total number of family law experts within the business before year end.

With more than 20 years’ experience in key areas of family law including Divorce and pre-nuptial agreements, Lorraine is a Resolution accredited specialist in financial and children disputes.

Commenting on her new role she said: “Simpson Millar is a dynamic, forward thinking firm, and I am delighted to be joining the business during such an exciting era, and amidst the rapid expansion of the family law department which is set to double in size over the course of 2021.”

Chrissy Lightfoot has also joined the family law team as a Litigation Executive and will assist the growing leadership team. Through her 12 years in family law she’s assisted senior partners at other leading firms, including Mishcon de Reya.

Commenting on the latest new recruits David Lister, head of the firm’s family law team, said: “It’s a real honour and privilege to have Alice, Chrissy and Lorraine join our expanding family law team. All three bring with them a wealth of experience, and we’re looking forward to welcoming more high-profile individuals in the coming months.

“Chrissy is known to many across London, especially in the High-Net-Worth sector, and Lorraine has a strong and established reputation within Greater Manchester and across the North West, which is a key growth area for the firm.

“Lorraine’s accolade as a Resolution accredited specialist particularly complements the work we are already doing in order to fundamentally change the face of family law to make it more accessible and open to our clients - including implementing a fully financed divorce and finance fixed price product for those who need it, and a single lawyer-led separation solution which is set for launch in March.

“As part of this, we are working in collaboration with mediators and arbitrators in order to deliver neutral evaluations and consent order drafting services for the significant proportion of couples separating who just want an easy exit with no real fuss.

“The fact that Lorraine joins us from a recognised national outfit and Chrissy joins us after operating for a number of years in one of London’s most luxurious districts tells us that we remain on the right tracks in our quest to become an employer of choice for real talent.”

With offices strategically located across the country, Simpson Millar is a leading national consumer law firm delivering Personal injury and Private Client legal services including Conveyancing, Wills, Trusts and Probate, Court of Protection, Family Law, Public Law and Education, Industrial Disease and Clinical Negligence.

It was recently commended as a leading firm in The Times’ 200 Best Law Firms 2021.

The firm, which is known as ‘The Open Lawyers’, and is establishing itself at the forefront of the changing legal services market, is committed to creating a simpler way to tackle challenges and to ‘open’ up the law to make it easier for people to get legal help and support when they need it.

This was posted in Bdaily’s Members’ News section by Hannah Butler .

Family law and the lockdown

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Sir, – All non-urgent family law cases in the Circuit and High Courts have been postponed until Level 5 restrictions are lifted. Access is strictly limited to ” urgent” cases.

I understand that the Courts Services and the judiciary implemented these restrictions with the intention of limiting footfall during this time.

However, this is causing harm to many parties and their children who have cases pending in the Circuit or High Courts. Many family law matters require orders from the court that may not be caught by the “urgency” clause (which most likely refers to domestic abuse) but are of essential court business nonetheless. As all family law cases are held in camera, only a handful of people are present: the parties, their legal team (barrister, solicitor), the judge and court registrar, and perhaps the judge’s assistant. By strict adherence to social distancing within the courtroom and mask protection, surely these cases can and should proceed?

Without doubt this is a valid and justifiable reason to relax the five-kilometre travel restriction in this instance.

If not, can technological safeguards be introduced to allow cases proceed by video-conference or other links?

The courts need to find a way to move cases forward, afford litigants access to justice as a matter of urgency and avoid further inevitable delays due to heavy backlogs. The maxim “Delay defeats equity” is ringing in my ears! – Yours, etc,



Dublin 4.