Recent headlines have strengthened London’s position as the jurisdiction of choice for divorcing wealthy couples. Notable recent national stories include the case of Russian oligarch Farkhad Akhmedov, whose wife was granted £453 million in Britain’s biggest divorce case.
London has been infamous as the ‘divorce capital of the world’ for many years. In 2012, The Times reported that a sixth of divorce cases heard by English courts involved foreign nationals, and of the cases where huge sums were involved, around half involved international couples.
The Guardian have attributed the 8% growth in the UK legal sector in part to ‘the growth of London as the international jurisdiction of choice for feuding oligarchs, disputatious oil-producers and aggrieved ex-wives seeking more lucrative divorce settlements.’
The English courts are perceived to be more generous towards the weaker financial party during the divorce process, hence its appeal to internationally mobile couples. Boris Johnson once joked that if a South African billionaire’s wife finds another woman’s lipstick on his collar, she may take his shirt to the dry cleaners in Cape Town — but she will take him to the cleaners in London.
London offers petitioners a reliable judiciary, and a good chance of enforcing the settlements granted. The starting point for a settlement is a 50/50 split of marital assets, which can change depending on the circumstances of the case, under the Court’s discretion. These discretionary powers are wide ranging, with the Court seeking a decision based on what is fair for both parties and meets their needs.
There has been a decline in large, so called ‘meal ticked for life’ maintenance awards, and the upcoming Supreme Court case Mills v Mills will be an important test for the principal of spousal maintenance. A private members’ bill promoted by cross bench peer Baroness Deech is seeking to end such “disproportionate” awards by limiting maintenance payments to a five year period. And prenuptial agreements, although not binding, tend to be respected.
As with all things, there is a degree of uncertainty over the impact Brexit will take on Britain’s appeal as an international divorce centre. High-net-worth cases tend to involve parties from areas beyond the EU, notably Russia, the Middle East and Far East, so there is cause for optimism that London’s position as the divorce capital may be insulated from a post-Brexit fall out, and could continue to go from strength to strength.
The rapid increase is partially due to the growth of London as the international jurisdiction of choice for feuding oligarchs, disputatious oil-producers and aggrieved ex-wives seeking more lucrative divorce settlements.