England’s largest divorce settlement – an unequal outcome

At the end of November 2014, the final settlement in the divorce between hedge fund billionaire Christopher Hohn and his American ex-wife Jamie Cooper-Hohn awarded, Jamie Cooper-Hohn less than half of their shared assets.

The financial dispute was thought to be the largest of its kind in England and commentators believe that the ruling may damage London’s reputation as the divorce capital of the world, known as this due to the perception that it gives generous awards and an equal division of assets.

Jamie Cooper-Hohn argued in the family courts that she was entitled to half of their assets, whilst Hohn contended that she should receive only a quarter. She was eventually awarded a 36 per cent share of their assets – £339m of an available £958m.

The division of wealth was to be based on their contributions to their 17-year marriage – Judge Roberts agreed that the City financier had made a special contribution to their wealth throughout their marriage, concluding that he had been the “generating force” behind the amassing of their shared fortune, and a “financial genius”. Jamie Cooper-Hohn played the parenting role, raising their four children, including triplets but she was also the chairwoman of their charity, often working long hours.

Hohn is one of the country’s biggest philanthropists, having given away a total of approximately £1 billion to charitable causes. The couple are the founders of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) which supports vulnerable and impoverished children in developing countries. There have since been disputes however, regarding the future workings of the charity.

Jamie Cooper-Hohn claimed that it was her influence that encouraged her ex-husband to give his wealth away, but he disputes this claim. Hohn argued that he was in fact already philanthropic in nature, but knew that he would have to first become rich to realise his charitable ideals.

He stated in the court that: “My life isn’t motivated by money. I live a very simple life, I live it day-to-day and my life has been about charity. I learned very early on that you can’t take money with you and that it doesn’t bring happiness.

“The basis for my claim of 75 per cent is that I have created all the wealth through expertise, effort and sweat and blood. The reward for that as I read it is that is where the law of special contribution applies.”

The City financier also claimed that part of his wealth was built up after the couple had separated

Initially it was believed that Jamie Cooper- Hohn would appeal the decision but in the last few days it has now been confirmed that she will not. Jamie Cooper-Hohn indicated that she viewed her marriage as an “equal partnership” and was disappointed that the courts saw her role as less “special” than her husbands.

The head of the family department at Macks commented “This is a very unusual case as generally it is very difficult to ague that one party’s financial contribution is such that the contribution is so “special or stellar” that it should be reflected in the distribution of assets. I am often asked (usually by men who are the sole bread winners) how their financial contributions will be reflected in a financial settlement on divorce. They are often surprised to learn that contributions are only one of a list of factors to be considered and generally financial contributions are looked at in the same light as non financial contributions such as staying at home and looking after children”.

Law Gazette

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