TV phenomenon, Ant McPartlin, and wife, Lisa Armstrong have announced their divorce after 11 years of marriage, and overall twenty three year relationship. The media is speculating that Ant will be agreeing to a 50/50 split of their substantial matrimonial assets in the hope of achieving a clean break and avoiding animosity. If so, it is on track to be the largest known divorce settlement involving a UK celebrity.
Ant’s income is undoubtedly significantly higher than Lisa’s. Paperwork from Companies House has made public the earnings from Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly’s firms and shows that the pair earned £29.5 million between them during 2016 – an average of £79,000 per day. Lisa, as head of make-up at Strictly Come Dancing, is also a high earner. It is reported that Lisa and Ant have acquired a £62 million fortune. Many celebrity divorces in the past have raised questions of pre-owned assets, but the probability in this situation is that the court would find that the wealth had been built up during the relationship, bearing in mind Lisa and Ant met when they were 19.
The courts of England and Wales treat marriage, especially long marriages, as a partnership. This precedent was set by the landmark case of White v White . In practice, it means that there can be no distinction between a breadwinner and a homemaker when dividing up a couple’s assets. The parties are entitled to equal treatment regardless of circumstance or contribution, domestic or financial. For long marriages, this has led to a default starting point of a 50:50 division. It is unsurprising that Ant is believed to be agreeable to a 50:50 split of their matrimonial assets.
Regardless, reports suggest that Ant and Lisa are trying to reach a settlement on the basis of a clean break and avoid the spotlight of the court process. If possible, avoiding court and settling is advised as a more desirable, less stressful and less costly option for clients. Although the circumstances surrounding Ant and Lisa’s divorce are complex, this is an excellent example of a high net value worth couple working to part ways amicably.
However, after an 11 year marriage and 23 year partnership, Ms Armstrong is entitled to half of the fortune whether the divorce proceeds amicably or not. If things unfortunately turn sour, Ant may look to rely on the special contributions deviation of the normal division of assets precedent. Section 25(2)(f) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 requires the court to consider the contribution which each party has made to the couple’s finances. The law recognises that in some cases, one party may have made a “special contribution” which may impact on the outcome in financial remedy proceedings. This could result in a departure from equality in favour of the party who has made the special contribution, as set in Miller v Miller  UKHL 24. This is justified as it would not be fair to overlook the astronomical contribution one party had made to the marriage. However, it is a challenging argument to prove. Would Ant be successful in doing so?
Mrs Justice Roberts, at paragraph 282 of Cooper-Hohn v Hohn  EWCA Civ 896, sets out the factors which might be required to find special contribution:
1. Can it properly be said that he is the generating force behind the fortune rather than the product itself?
2. Does the scale of the wealth depend upon his innovative vision as well as on his ability to develop those visions?
3. Has he generated truly vast wealth such that his business success can properly be viewed as exceptional?
4. Does he have a special skill and effort which is special to him and which survives as a material consideration despite the partnership or pooling aspect of the marriage?
5. Would it, in all the circumstances, be inequitable for me to disregard that contribution?
She then went on to ask at paragraph  whether:
6. ‘Is it necessary for the purposes of ‘special contribution’ for me to find that the husband possessed the quality of ‘genius’?’
Roberts J did not state whether it was necessary, but went on to consider the question in any event stating:
“There are various definitions of the word ‘genius’ but all seem to suggest that, in order to qualify for this sobriquet, a person must have some exceptional natural capacity or intellectual or creative power or other natural ability which finds reflection in the exercise of an exceptional skill in a particular area of activity.”
There is no doubt that opinions will be divided regarding the ‘exceptional natural capacity’ that Ant demonstrates, yet it is undeniable that Ant and Dec, as a duo, have been incredibly successful and their achievements in the industry are unmatched. At the National Television Awards they have won the award for best TV presenters 17 years in a row, amongst endless other accolades such as OBEs. However, does Ant, if it were to be necessary, really meet the description of ‘genius’?
Regardless, in 2016 in the case of Work v Gray  EWCA Civ 286, the Court of Appeal reviewed the threshold. The court found that the use of the word “genius” is simply unhelpful, and summarised the correct approach as being to determine whether a contribution is ‘wholly exceptional’. Therefore, this requires looking at the nature of the contribution and determining whether it derives from an exceptional and individual quality. With this threshold seemingly lowered, perhaps this could be something for Ant to keep in the back of his mind.
If you would like more information or expert advice on divorce and the division of assets, please contact the family team on 029 2039 1082.