If you are caught up in the uncertainty created by marital breakdown you might think nowhere is a ‘good’ place to divorce. But many people go to great lengths to have their divorces settled in London. Recently the decree absolute was issued in Chai v Peng, better known perhaps as the Laura Ashley divorce because of the husband’s position as head of the group that owns the retail chain.
The case attracted widespread interest when it began because of arguments over jurisdiction. Debate over whether courts in Malaysia or London were the correct forum was long and relatively protracted.
There are several reasons why some people – often the financially weaker spouse – are prepared to spend so much time and money battling to ensure London courts decide the terms of their divorce:
- In London judges have discretionary powers when making financial orders on divorce, including maintenance orders
- Unlike many other jurisdictions where stricter formula exist to calculate financial outcomes, judges here are free to apply a series of factors in the way they feel is most appropriate in each case
- In some cases judges in London and elsewhere in England and Wales will financially penalise a spouse who attempts to hide assets
How Do I Secure London As A Base For My Divorce?
If you want to issue a divorce petition in London you must meet one of the criteria set out under EU Law. These include:
- Both you and your spouse are habitually resident here
- Your spouse is habitually resident here
- You are habitually resident here and have lived here for one year before the divorce petition
- You are domiciled here and have lived here for at least six months prior to the petition
- Both you and your spouse are domiciled here
In recent years London has become a favourite place for wealthy individuals from across the globe to settle down and make their home. The requirements listed above show that this kind of relocation opens the door for wealthy individuals who have lived here for some time to successfully issue divorce proceedings in London.
The way the rules on jurisdiction are framed means it is not uncommon for more than one country to potentially be able to decide all matters. If the choice is between two EU countries, the country in which the petition is first lodged will typically hear the case. This sometimes leads to what are known as ‘jurisdiction races’ where the space of a few hours could decide the location of the divorce proceedings.
What if a non-EU country is involved? This was the case in Chai v Peng. When one party wishes to have proceedings held in London, the court will consider the balance of fairness (including convenience) between the two countries to establish where it would be most appropriate for the case to be heard. Often this involves a delicate balancing exercise. In Chai v Peng for example the judge concluded that “the connecting factors to each jurisdiction pan out fairly equally, with a small bias in the wife’s favour”.
Given the sums involved in this particular case this narrow decision could mean the difference of millions of pounds to the overall settlement.
Jurisdiction is complicated and it’s often crucial to act quickly. If there are arguments over jurisdiction they are often finely balanced. If a jurisdiction race is likely, it is essential to instruct solicitors familiar with procedures in the relevant jurisdictions. As international divorce lawyers we are familiar with the nature of legal systems across the globe and can advise accordingly.