Divorce Tourism

When it comes to divorce, the United Kingdom and the English Family Justice System is the destination of choice for the big money cases, particularly for the financially weaker spouse because of the established principal of equal contribution and the premise of “joint lives” maintenance.

So long as the spouse bringing the petition is resident and is domiciled in the United Kingdom and has been for six months or more or is habitually resident for twelve months, the jurisdiction can be invoked.

Equal Contributions: The Presumption of 50:50

The landmark case of White and White (2001) (House of Lords) paved the way forward for an equal presumption of domestic contributions versus financial contributions. 

The argument as to special contributions now rarely succeeds.

In May 2017, a Russian billionaire, who was estimated to be worth GBP1 billion from trading in oil and gas, paid to his estranged wife GBP453 million.  The parties were married for twenty years, the wife was a mother and homemaker and the parties’ two children were now adults.  The parties met in Moscow in 1993 before both moving to London in the same year.  Only the wife became a citizen.  The husband, for tax purposes, was not.  The wife was represented by Baroness Shackleton, who represented the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, Prince Charles and Madonna.  The wife argued that she was entitled to half of the share of the GBP1 billion fortune because of the doctrine of equal contributions.  The husband argued that he was very wealthy before marriage and had made a “special contribution” to the creation of the wealth.  Justice Haddon-Cave of the Family Division of the High Court in London ruled that the husband had not made any “special” or “stellar” contributions.

Life Long Spousal Maintenance

In regards to spousal maintenance, on the condition that the recipient does not remarry, it only ends upon the death of one of the parties.  A spouse can continue to apply to Court for maintenance years down the track if their financial circumstances vary.

In February 2017, in the matter involving Graham and Maria Mills, the wife was successful in agitating an increase in spousal maintenance after finalising a property settlement in 2002 where she received a payment of GBP230,000 and then GBP1,100 a month in maintenance and the husband retained the business interest.  The wife returned to the Court following some unwise investment decisions seeking an increase in spousal maintenance because she was “unable to meet her basic needs” having a 21 year old son of the marriage at university.  The Judges of the Appeal Court, Lord Justice Longmore and Sir Ernest Ryder determined that because the parties were married and there was provision for “joint lives” maintenance with the wife having a “need” and husband having the capacity to meet that need that she receive a top up of her original maintenance of an additional GBP340 per month.

Forum Shopping

In April 2016, Lady Justice Black of the Appeal Court in London took a stand against divorce tourism by preventing an Australian, Catherine De Renee, from again litigating against her English QC husband, Jason Galbraith-Martin.  The parties married in Australia in 2006, moved the United Kingdom and separated in 2008 when the wife and a child of the marriage returned to Australia. The wife was a permanent right of residence in the United Kingdom.  The matters were resolved in Australia in 2009 by way of Binding Financial Agreements wherein the wife received GBP72,000 in a property settlement, GBP45,000 in spousal maintenance (up to 2012) and then GBP9,600 per annum thereafter in child support.  The wife attempted to re agitate proceedings in Australia claiming duress, poor legal advice and non-disclosure. She failed and did not Appeal.  She then returned to the United Kingdom and sought leave to apply for financial relief.

The Judge remarked, “This Court is not here to provide a top up for every foreign divorce”.  The wife failed in her petition.

In recent years, the English Family Justice System (unless specifically suppressed by the Court) has permitted the press to report on numerous high profile cases.  It remains to be seen if the possibility of airing one's dirty laundry to the world is a deterrent to divorcing spouses establishing proceedings in that jurisdiction when it means a significantly greater financial outcome for the weaker spouse. 


Victoria Treloar

27 June 2017