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Fair property division in divorce: evaluating claim of “genius”

Massachusetts courts and those in most other American states employ a so-called “equitable property division” scheme when evaluating how marital property should be distributed in a divorce.

For myriad reasons (especially in a high-asset decoupling involving multiple types of property, e.g., realty holdings, family businesses, varied types of investment/saving accounts, company-sponsored benefits, art, heirlooms and so forth), that can get complex in a hurry.

So, too, can competing claims by divorcing parties regarding special talents or attributes they brought to a marriage that allegedly fueled its economic prosperity in a special way.

In one recent case that certainly qualifies as exceptional, a former spouse argued in a divorce appeal that a lower-court ruling on equitable property division should be adjusted (upwardly in his favor, unsurprisingly) owing to the proven dose of “genius” he brought to his marriage while it was intact.

That litigant, Randy Work, is a high-profile figure in the financial world who indisputably exercised singular talents and insights to drive profit for a global equities firm when he supervised one of its offices in past years. He says that such “special contributions” should have been judicially evaluated as genius in the first instance and entitled him to a larger than 50% split of assets totaling approximately $225 million.

Appellate judges in London disagreed, finding the claim to essentially be a slippery slope that they didn’t want to venture anywhere near. They termed Work’s “genius” appellation as “unhelpful” and instantly inappropriate in virtually all cases, stating that the designation properly applied only to figures such as Einstein and Mozart.

And while Work is undoubtedly a smart man, the court noted, his marital contributions did not entitle him to stand beside such historically lofty figures.

Work was “very successful,” the court conceded, but success does not automatically equate with genius.

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