The English family courts are accustomed to dealing with ‘big money’ divorces with a distinctly international flavour and, in one such, a ‘fabulous’ penthouse flat in one of London’s most exclusive areas – said to be worth £20 million – was at the centre of a bitter struggle between an 89-year-old Saudi Arabian sheikh and his Lebanese ex-wife.
The sheikh was ‘outraged’ when his ex-wife laid claim to the flat, near Regent’s Park. He had divorced her in an Islamic ‘talaq’ ceremony and hotly disputed her right to bring financial relief proceedings against him in London on the basis that the fall-out from the end of their marriage was a ‘deeply, deeply’ Saudi Arabian affair.
However, his 63-year-old former wife argued that she had now made her permanent home in London and needed somewhere to live. When her ex-husband, a hugely wealthy property developer, tried to get her out of the flat, she had responded by obtaining a temporary injunction preventing its sale from under her.
The sheikh had bought the flat in the 1970s but was now ‘very anxious to get on and sell the property’ before the hyper-inflated central London property market collapsed. He disputed the amount of time they had spent in the flat during their married life and argued that his ex-wife’s claim against him under the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 should be blocked on jurisdictional grounds.
However, she insisted that she intended to live out the rest of her life in the ‘safe and familiar environment’ of London. She had obtained an ‘investor’s visa’, entitling her to stay in Britain for an extended period. In those circumstances, the High Court found that the sheikh had ‘come nowhere near’ to landing ‘a knock-out blow’ to his ex-wife’s claim, which she was entitled to pursue in an English court.