The equal sharing principle applies in the vast majority of divorce cases nowadays – even where the sums of money involved are truly enormous. In one High Court case exactly on point, a billionaire oil and gas trader was ordered to pay his ex-wife a total of more than £450 million.
Despite difficulties in their marriage, it had subsisted for more than 20 years before their final separation. Although both Russian-born, they had settled in Britain where they had children together. The husband had enjoyed spectacular business success and the family assets were worth just over £1 billion.
The husband had, for unknown reasons, withdrawn his initial opposition to the wife’s divorce petition and her application for financial relief had thus proceeded on an uncontested basis. There was no evidence to support his plea that he was wealthy before the marriage or that he had made a special contribution to wealth creation through his work. Arguments that the majority of the assets were held by trusts of which the husband was only a discretionary beneficiary also fell on fallow ground.
In the circumstances, the Court found that all the assets concerned were matrimonial in character and that there was no reason of principle why they should not be divided equally. The wife's pre-action offer to settle her claim for £350 million had not been accepted by the husband and was no longer binding upon her. She was awarded in addition a number of chattels, including an Aston Martin car and a modern art collection valued at more than £85 million. The total value of her award was £453,576,152, or 41.5 per cent of the total marital assets.