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Divorce Battles ‘Highlight English Courts’ Reputation For Favourable Settlements’

Major Cases Put International Reputation In Spotlight


By Rob Dixon

Two high-profile divorce battles have put the spotlight on how the English courts’ international reputation for providing favourable settlements to the partners of wealthy individuals is continuing to grow, according to international family law specialists at Irwin Mitchell.

Reports have revealed that former Miss Malaysia Pauline Chai, who has been living in Hertfordshire since October, has issued a divorce petition in England in an effort to get her divorce case with estranged husband Khoo Kay Peng heard in London.

However, Dr Khoo is keen to see the case head in Malaysia, with the liability in terms of the split of an estate being more favourable in that country.

News of the situation has followed reports that the estranged wife of property tycoon Paul Saward failed in efforts to get their divorce case heard in the UK courts. Maria Saward married her husband in Gibraltar four years ago and they lived on Spain’s Costa Blanca until they split in June 2011.

According to Irwin Mitchell’s expert Family Law team, both cases have emphasised how England is continuing to develop an international reputation as a place where parties are able to secure a favourable settlement from wealthy partners. The team of specialists includes Fellows of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, a worldwide organisation of elite international family lawyers.

Fiona Turner, a Partner based in Irwin Mitchell’s Manchester office, said: “Forum shopping is an increasing trend given today’s global community.

“The UK and particularly London has earned a reputation for awarding generous settlements to spouses, particularly wives, in circumstances where our counterparts in other parts of the world would award significantly less or – potentially – nothing.

“However, it is clear the English Court cannot and will not deal with every case that is issued here if it has been incorrect in law to bring proceedings here. Specific rules and legislation are in place and a speculative application, made in the hope of securing a large windfall, will not be entertained.

Fiona explained that key issues include the need for one or both parties to be linked to the English jurisdiction, whether through their habitual residence for a particular period of time or domicile.

She outlined: “In the case of Mrs Saward, she failed to win the patronage of the English court by arguing that her husband was either resident or domiciled in UK – a finding that the court rejected.

“The Court of Appeal ruled that Mr Saward’s permanent home and main sphere of interest was in Spain. This was despite the bulk of his property portfolio being in Southampton and the surrounding area, most of his family being located in the area, and his yacht being moored there most of the time.

“In addition, Mrs Saward lives in Spain, and failed to establish a sufficient connection with the UK for herself to justify the proceedings continuing in UK. As such a divorce is expected to proceed in Spain.”

Fiona added: “There may possibly be some light at the end of the tunnel for Mrs Saward or others who find themselves in a similar situation. If the divorce court of the foreign country makes a low, or no, award, it may be possible to bring a subsequent claim in England for financial relief.

“There are again stringent requirements to meet before a party can mount a claim, primarily based on domicile or habitual residence but also if there was a former marital home in this jurisdiction.

“However, it would be very difficult to mount such an application if the claimant was not living in England as the court must be satisfied of a significant connection with the UK. Otherwise a party might find themselves unfairly securing ‘a second bite of the cherry’.

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