Although not something it was probably ever aiming for, London’s status as “divorce capital” has attracted people from all over the world to our shores, looking to get their divorce settlement decided under English law.
In 2015, The Guardian ran an article about how the wife of a couple with an estimated £440 million fortune, wanted to get divorced in England. Her husband, businessman Khoo Kay Pen, reportedly wanted a divorce in Malaysia. Indeed, in this article, one lawyer was reported to have said that the person with the money would “move heaven and earth to avoid a divorce in England”.
But why has London achieved this standing within the world of divorce?
In essence, it is because when asked to decide a financial settlement, an English judge’s starting point will be a 50/50 split of all marital assets. Although other factors obviously do come into play, which can result in a settlement that isn’t split in precisely this way, it is roughly how many settlements end up looking.
There have been a number of UK-based divorce cases in recent years involving very large payouts. In one case earlier this year, a woman was granted £453 million as part of her divorce settlement from her estranged husband. This worked out as a 41.5% share of a £1 billion fortune.
As well as big divorce payouts, England is also known for long-term maintenance payments, adding to its attractiveness as the place to divorce for the spouse with less money.
In an article published by the Financial Times, UK Supreme Court justice Lord Wilson, reportedly defended the system that had enabled London to carve out this reputation. He argued that it was “unrealistic” to tell a 60 year-old wife that she must fend for herself after only a few years of maintenance payments and a long marriage.
There have been efforts by judges to limit maintenance payments, with a judge in a Court of Appeal ruling in 2015, telling the wife of a millionaire vet to get a job, because she has no right to be “supported for life” by her ex-husband.
In this case, the husband was approaching retirement. Courts do take into consideration each spouse’s earning capacity. This ruling doesn’t necessarily mean that the spouse of a City trader, for example, earning millions of pounds a year, would be told that they had to find a job.
Recently, a bill tabled by Baroness Deech which called for a three-year cap on maintenance payments, passed its second reading in the House of Lords.
However, as we can see from this most recent £453 million payout, thought to be Britain’s biggest divorce, London’s title of “divorce capital” doesn’t seem likely to disappear any time soon.
However, it cannot be stressed enough as divorce is a complex matter regardless of the marital assets involved you need specialist legal advice to guide you through this potential mine field. Specialist divorce firms based in Canary Wharf, experts in high net divorce and family breakdown, have seen a rise in the number of cases they are now instructed in dealing with complex financial asset arrangements.