Unequal Property Division

A Husband recently demanded an unequal property division in his divorce. He wanted more than half of a $225 million fortune, and for his Ex to get about $6 million. He claimed he was entitled to more than half because of his “genius”. Are you entitled to more than half in a divorce?

Valuing Genius

Randy Work, 49, a former executive at Texas-based private equity firm Lone Star, had first claimed that his wife of 20 years, Mandy Gray, was entitled to only $6m because she had an affair with the couple’s personal physiotherapist.

The pair, who are both American and have two teenage children, met in 1992 and married in 1995. They split up in 2013 when Gray began an affair with the couple’s physiotherapist, 44, who she now lives with in a rented flat in Kensington.

A British high court judge rejected the Husband’s claim that he made an “exceptional contribution” to the marriage and was therefore entitled to more than a 50-50 split of the couple’s assets, which include a mansion in West London, complete with swimming pool and fitness center and a ski lodge in Aspen.

Ruling on their divorce in 2015 Justice Holman told the businessman that his wealth contribution – which Work said totaled more than $300m in 10 years – was not “wholly exceptional” and rejected his claim to be a financial “genius”.

“I personally find that a difficult, and perhaps unhelpful, word in this context,” Holman said. “To my mind, the word ‘genius’ tends to be overused and is properly reserved for Leonardo da Vinci, Mozart, Einstein and others like them.”

Work, who has spent at least $3m fighting to keep his wife from collecting half of the family fortune, took the case to the court of appeal which on Tuesday unanimously rejected his appeal against the trial judge’s ruling.

Florida Property Division

I’ve written about property division in Florida many times before. Property division, or equitable distribution as it is called in Florida, is governed by statute and case law.

Generally, courts set apart to each spouse their nonmarital assets and debts, and then distribute the marital assets and debts between the parties. In dividing the marital assets and debts though, the court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal.

However, if there is a justification for an unequal distribution, as in the Work divorce, the court must base the unequal distribution on certain factors, including: the contribution to the marriage by each spouse; the economic circumstances of the parties, the duration of the marriage, or any interrupting of personal careers or education.

Additionally, courts can consider the contribution of each spouse to the acquisition, enhancement, and production of income or the improvement of, or the incurring of liabilities to, both the marital assets and the nonmarital assets of the parties.

However, courts generally can’t base unequal distribution on one spouse’s disproportionate financial contributions to the marriage unless there is a showing of some “extraordinary services over and above the normal marital duties.”

The English Divorce

During the divorce hearing Holman had said the case “should be so easy” to settle as there was “plenty of money to go round” and criticized the couple for descending into “unedifying and destructive pugilism”.

“In our view the husband has failed to demonstrate that Holman J’s decision was wrong,” three court of appeal judges said.

London has become known as the divorce capital of the world because British judges tend not to discriminate between breadwinner and homemaker and order equal splits of combined fortunes.

However, Work had hoped to convince the court of appeal judges to allow him to join those few men who had been granted more than half of the combined assets in a divorce in recognition of the “wholly exceptional nature” of their success.

Holman had ruled that although Work was an “astute businessman”, Gray was a “highly intelligent” woman who had given up her career to follow her husband to Tokyo, where he made hundreds of millions of pounds exploiting the Japanese financial crisis.

“A successful claim to a special contribution requires some exceptional and individual quality in the spouse concerned. Being in the right place at the right time or benefiting from a period of boom is not enough,” Holman said.

“It may one day fall for consideration whether a very highly paid footballer, who is very good at his job but may be no more skillful than past greats, such as Stanley Matthews or Bobby Charlton, makes a special contribution or is merely the lucky beneficiary of the colossal payments now made possible by the sale of television rights.”

Holman said Work and Gray, 47, had been “two strong and equal partners” and he would not have been able to amass his vast fortune without her contribution.

The Guardian article is available here.