On 10th May 2017 in a divorce law case a judgment was handed down in the High Court in London which awarded a wife the astronomical sum £453 million – 41.5% of the total marital assets. The case was widely reported in the media.
This was yet another case involving a super rich couple, originally from Russia. There have been a series of high value cases involving Russian ‘oligarchs’ – people who had made their money in the post -communist era.
The High Court in London is becoming the court of choice for the financially weaker party to start divorce proceedings, dubbing London the ‘Divorce Capital of the World’.
If you are an Oligarch or an Average Joe the law applicable when determining all financial remedy cases is the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Section 25 lists the factors the court has to take into account when determining an appropriate level of settlement: Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Section 25
The attraction of starting a divorce in the English court is the level of discretion attributed to the Judge hearing the case. In many foreign jurisdictions it is pre-determined from the outset what will happen to the assets on divorce. This is akin to a binding pre-nuptial (also known as a pre-marital) agreement and is called a ‘matrimonial property regime’.
An example of such a regime is that only property accrued during the marriage is taken into account should the parties divorce. If one party brought wealth to the marriage, the property regime would prevent the other making a claim on those assets. These regimes are not necessarily binding under English law (see our blog on pre-nuptial agreements).
The wide discretion given to the courts can mean that it is difficult to predict outcomes. The general rule is that, especially in a long marriage case, the starting point for division of the assets is equality The fact that the wife in this case received 41.5% demonstrates that no matter what the financial means of the couple, the same rules apply. To put it colloquially, when dealing with the super- rich, there are just a few more noughts added.
Another point of interest from the Russian cases is that they possibly had a choice of country in which start the divorce. The general rule is that one or both of parties have to have a sufficient connection to the country in which the divorce law proceedings take place. In this case the couple had lived in Surrey for a long period of time and both had Indefinite Leave to Remain in this country. It is not possible just to decide to get divorced in a different country because you are more likely to get a better financial settlement.
In the case the wife applied for an order that the parties should not be identified as she feared that her security would be compromised. Privacy in the family courts is discussed in the blog Privacy in the Family Courts – April 2017
Finally, the case was dealt with in the High Court not the Family Court because of the value and complexity. The High Court deals with only with cases which are exceptionally complex; the guidance states it is unlikely to be proportionate to be heard in that Court if the asset value is less than £7.5 million.
Whether you are an Oligarch or an Average Joe the same divorce law applies when determining a financial settlement. Average Joe won’t get his case heard by a High Court judge but a very capable District Judge and his case will be in private. If Average Joe is actually Average Guiseppe from Italy he will not be able to get divorced here if he has no connection with this country.