English judges are respected around the world – but they are not the sole arbiters of fairness and the decisions of foreign courts must be respected. A family judge made that point in shutting the door on divorce tourism and refusing a Russian ex-wife the opportunity to seek a greater share of her husband’s enormous wealth.
During the couple’s marriage, which lasted over 30 years, they had built up a fortune which the wife estimated at $20 billion. A blizzard of litigation, in Russia and elsewhere, followed the end of their marriage. The wife claimed that, due to the power and influence exerted by her husband in their homeland, she had been awarded only $41.5 million, or less than 0.3 per cent of the marital assets, by the Russian courts.
After she moved to England, and following a hearing at which the husband was not represented, a judge granted her permission to seek further financial relief from him under the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. That was on the basis that she had an arguable case that she had suffered a grave injustice at the hands of the Russian courts and that the sums she was awarded there came nowhere near meeting her reasonable needs.
In setting aside that permission at the husband’s behest, the same judge found that, in applying for it, the wife had breached the duty of candour that she owed to the court. Amongst other things, the provisions of Russian law, the full extent of the litigation there and the true value of the award she had received had been misrepresented.
Although there was no dispute that she was habitually resident in England, there were doubts as to whether she was domiciled here. Having moved to this country only after the end of the marriage, her connections to England were recent and modest and her links to Russia were infinitely greater.
The judge acknowledged that, given the scale of the husband’s wealth, the award to the wife made by the Russian courts was, by English standards, paltry. Had she been divorced in England, her award – whether based on the sharing principle or her reasonable needs – would have been vastly greater. To that extent, she could be said to have suffered hardship.
However, the judge noted that it is not the job of the English courts to correct alleged deficiencies in the legal systems of other countries. The wife’s case was a classic example of a spouse with no connection to England seeking to take advantage of the perceived more generous approach of English judges to the financial aspects of divorce. She had taken the fullest possible advantage of the Russian legal system and, were her claim permitted to proceed, there would be no limit to divorce tourism.