It may come as a surprise but, even if you have been divorced abroad, there is a great deal that an English family lawyer can do to ensure you receive a fair financial deal. In one case, the High Court came to the aid of a woman whose marriage to an affluent Chinese businessman ended acrimoniously.
The couple enjoyed an opulent lifestyle during their marriage, which lasted for about two years. Following their separation, he for some months provided her with apparently generous financial support. However, all that changed when he abruptly closed their joint account, which held about £1.4 million. Suffering from a number of health problems, she had since run up about £600,000 in debts.
She petitioned for divorce in England, asserting unreasonable behaviour on his part. However, he succeeded in divorcing her first in China. As a result, the English courts had no power to hear either her petition or her application for financial relief under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Both were dismissed.
That, however, did not prevent her from taking action under the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. Even in the event of an overseas divorce, the Act enables those who are domiciled or habitually resident in England, or who had their matrimonial home in this country, to seek financial relief against their former spouses in an English court.
The husband, who lived in China, argued that the dispute should be dealt with there and that the English courts had no right to intervene. The wife, however, lived in this country and the Court found following a preliminary hearing that she had at least an arguable case that the couple’s primary base was in England during the marriage.
Criticising the husband’s litigation conduct, the Court noted that he had failed to engage meaningfully in the proceedings. His disclosure of his assets was wholly inadequate and he had taken steps to strip the UK arm of his business of all its assets. He had cut the wife off financially and had made no offers to compromise.
The wife, who was sacked from her senior role in the husband’s business after their separation, had been awarded £103,000 in damages by an English Employment Tribunal. However, no part of that sum had been paid to her.
The husband was ordered to make interim financial provision for the wife of £200,000 a year, pending a final resolution of her claim. He was also ordered to pay substantial sums to cover her past and future legal costs of the proceedings.