London, long described as the libel capital of the world, is now becoming a mecca for wannabe divorcÈes too apparently. It would seem the powers that be have taken notice, however, and this week Lord Justice Thorpe in the Court of Appeal criticised a pair of warring Russians whose "bitter and unruly" divorce battle landed before him.
Ilya Golubovich, 24, whose mother owns "the Russian equivalent of Tesco" and father is a (former) Russian oil baron, met his wife Elena, 26, during the mid-noughties. He had just graduated from Stanford University and was seemingly midway through a European Grand Tour of sorts, while she was studying fashion in London. In 2007, the couple married and a year later had a child, who they named Maya.
Ilya's parents bankrolled their life in London and by all accounts they enjoyed an "exceptionally high standard of living". His mother Olga purchased two flats for the couple in Queen's Gate Place, south west London, at a combined cost of nearly £4 million. Maya and a nanny lived in one flat, they in another. Alas, it was just never meant to be, and the marriage broke down last year. Elena promptly filed for divorce in London.
Shortly afterward, however, Ilya and/or his lawyer "invented" a hearing in a Moscow court and "forged" a Russian divorce decree. Elena was indignant and the case ended up in the High Court Family Division in London before Justice Singer. While he tried to ascertain the validity of the decree, he instructed Ilya to stay away from Russia and to refrain from applying for a second decree.
But Ilya ignored the judge. It did him no good, however, as Justice Singer declared the first decree a forgery and the second invalid on "public policy grounds". The judge also ordered Ilya to pay Elena £300,000 a year maintenance until a final divorce settlement was reached. Ilya appealed the decision.
Under English divorce law, all of the parties assets may be considered in deciding who gets what; while under Russian law (a friend tells me...) only assets accumulated during the marriage may be considered. Consequently, Elena stands to get more if the settlement is decided in England than she would if it were reached in Russia.
Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner...
Lord Justice Thorpe allowed Ilya's appeal on the ground that "to refuse recognition of the Moscow decree would disregard our obligation to respect the function of that court." He also criticised both parties for their conduct in the case:
"There are only 17 judges of the family division [of the High Court] whose primary responsibility is to do justice domestically.
"There they operate under great pressure of work. I question whether there should not be a more stringent allocation of judicial time to cases such as this where the parties have slender connection with our jurisdiction and where the extent of their financial resources permits disproportionate demands on our family justice system.
"In these sagas it is commonly seen that one sharp manoeuvre provokes an even worse response."
The Independent speculates the parties have now spent upwards of £2 million in legal fees. And they may yet spend even more...