​When Two Worlds Collide – Do Charities and Divorces Mix?

​When Two Worlds Collide – Do Charities and Divorces Mix?

The High Court was recently required to get involved in an unusual situation arising from the divorce of Sir Christopher Hohn and his ex-wife Jamie Cooper.

The hedge fund manager Sir Christopher Hohn and his ex-wife Jamie Cooper founded the Children's Investment Fund Foundation where they both sit as a trustee on its board. Following the divorce Jamie Cooper set up a new charity Big Win Philanthropy and a "deal" was struck that as part of the negotiations surrounding the divorce CIFF would make a payment of £280 million to Ms Cooper's new charity. It appears that Ms Cooper had been awarded £330 million from the divorce settlement and the assets that she and her ex-husband had in 2014 which the Judge at the time said reflected her contribution to the marriage and the accumulation of her ex-husband's wealth. In a separate aspect in 2015 Ms Cooper requested £393 million from CIFF to fund BWP in return for her stepping down from CIFF's board but in the end accepted an offer of £280 million. CIFF brought the grant before the High Court for approval before going ahead.

Despite having apparently agreed to this Sir Christopher Hohn argued that it was wrong for the payment to be made because it had not been arranged because of the charity's needs but as part of the "haggling" of the Divorce Proceedings. He argued it was not within the grant making powers of the charity's trustees to make a payment in order to secure a trustee's resignation. However the ruling from the Court was that it would be in the best interests of CIFF to make the grant and it would be inappropriate for the charity to renege on its agreement. As part of the deal Ms Cooper had also agreed to give £31 million of her own money to BWP if the CIFF grant was made.

The Charity Commission will now need to ratify the judgment and a spokesman for the Commission is quoted to have said rather neutrally "we note the judgment of the Court in the CIFF case. We will be giving full consideration to the proposed grant when the matter is referred to us in line with the judgment".

Whilst it is rare for charities or charitable funds to be involved in divorce settlements this does show that life is becoming increasingly complicated with an overlap between different areas of law effecting charities and individuals becoming more and more common.

Commentary by Neale Grearson, Head of Clapham & Collinge Charity and Family Law Departments.

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