Footballers – money, skill and divorce.

With the European Championships well under way in France, we are once again reminded that there are those amongst us that are paid vast sums of money for applying their supreme skill and unique abilities. The money amassed by the stellar weekly wages of these sporting superstars is often considered forensically by the court, when considering finances and divorce proceedings.

Following the landmark White [2000] case, the courts have adopted a “yardstick of equality of division” in financial proceedings. The court is able to consider all the factors of a case and will only deviate from the principle of equal division of assets, if there is good reason for doing so.

In spite of that general principle when considering the parties’ money, in the Cowan [2001] case, the Court of Appeal felt it was appropriate to recognise that one party to the marriage may have made an “exceptional” contribution in some way. The judges hearing the case felt that fairness permitted, and might even be required, to recognise that one party’s skill or genius has played an overriding role in the resulting financial landscape of the parties and money generated through the marriage.

The decision in Cowan has led to a number of later cases, involving entrepreneurs, captains of industry and leading sports stars, to argue that their “skill or genius” should be recognised as such a factor,  requiring fairness to depart from the general “yardstick of equality” when considering the money generated from a marriage. For example, in Sorrell [2005], Mr Sorrell argued that the marriage had accumulated almost £75m of assets as a result of his special talents for business. The court agreed and afforded Mr Sorrell 60% of the assets as a result.

More recently, in the Cooper-Hahn [2014] case, the Court of Appeal agreed that the husband’s “financial genius” had led to a vast sum of matrimonial assets. It is particularly difficult to keep track of the sums under consideration in this case. During the two year period, from the parties’ separation to the date of the final court hearing, the parties’ wealth doubled to over $1,500,000,000. The husband was awarded 64% of the asset total, as a result of his special contributions he made to the money generated during the marriage.

Although the courts have steadfastly refused to set a threshold figure of money that might trigger an argument of “special or exceptional” contribution for cases of substantial wealth, there has been guidance from the court on their approach, which was given in Charman [2006]. The court stated that exceptional and individual quality in the generator of the fortune must be “…hard to generate…”. There are clearly cases such as Cooper-Hahn, wherein the sums under consideration are so vast, as to lend themselves to an argument of special contributions very readily.

In the coming weeks, we hope our footballers demonstrate exceptional skill and make a special contribution on the pitch, even if the courts might be looking at their skill and contributions to the financial landscape from a different angle, when assessing money and divorce proceedings.

Serving Bedford, Northampton and Milton Keynes, our lawyers can help you with your family law and divorce matters. If you would like to speak to one of our team to discuss your matrimonial finances, contact us today on 01234 889777 or


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