'Divorce Tourism' puts pressure on UK courts

9 August 2011

It seems that the values of equality and fairness that the UK courts are renowned for when it comes to matrimonial law matters have resulted in the courts being a destination for high-value individuals looking to gain a favourable financial settlement in their divorce.
In a high profile divorce proceeding at the High Court in London last year, it was highlighted by Lord Justice Thorpe that Britain was attracting foreign nationals to it's courts in order to settle their disputes in order to secure a more beneficial outcome for themselves. The phrase 'Divorce Tourism' has now been coined and is demonstrated in the case of Ilya and Elena Golubovitch.
Ilya Golubovitch's wealth flows from his family; his parents are both extremely wealthy business people. He met his former wife who was a fashion student in London and they married in 2007 and have a daughter together but the marriage broke down in 2010. They lived a very comfortable lifestyle in London.
At this point, Elena filed for divorce, in London. Ilya did so in Moscow. The motivations for doing so were clearly financial, with British courts having a reputation for giving fairer settlements to divorcing spouses. However, Ilya and his legal team employed tactics that were less than scrupulous – he initially obtained a forged decree of divorce which purported to be from a Moscow court. Whichever country was first to grant decree would also have jurisdiction to decide on the financial settlement. The judges were critical of the pair's motivations and actions, especially as Ilya then returned to Moscow to obtain a second, valid decree whilst the UK court attempted to ascertain the validity of the first – despite the court forbidding him to do this.
After spending upwards of £2million on legal bills, Elena was awarded £2.8 million in March this year but the episode is to be seen as indicative of a wider issue – with senior family judge Sir Paul Coleridge describing family breakdown as an 'epidemic' in a recent BBC Radio interview. He had estimated that 3.8 million children are victims of the system and there is no indication that the figure will drop. Whilst the wealthy section of society will have the time and resources to occupy the courts in what could be argued is a fairly selfish manner, there is no reduction of people from more modest backgrounds who would seek justice and a reasonable and just settlement for them and their children.
Sir Paul also stated in the interview that getting divorced now is easier than getting a driving licence. The result of this is a different attitude to relationships, marriage and divorce, that has implications for society as a whole, with the effect of a family breakdown 'rippling out' to the wider community, and from one generation to the next. He stated private law family disputes had gone up by 19%.

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