Those who believe that they can escape the financial consequences of divorce by dissolving their marriages abroad are mistaken. In a big money case on point, a businessman who obtained a divorce in Oman was nevertheless ordered by an English family judge to pay more than £24 million to his ex-wife and children.
There was no dispute that the husband had validly divorced the wife by declaring a unilateral talaq in Oman and registering the same with the courts of that country. However, as his ex-wife and children were habitually resident in London, she was entitled to seek fair financial provision from his fortune by virtue of Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984.
In ruling on the matter, the judge noted that the husband had treated the wife with no respect and effectively as a slave. After their marriage broke down and he returned to Oman, he had abruptly cut off the entirety of her income. She had thereafter been forced to sell jewellery and to rely on the generosity of friends. The husband had also persistently breached interim orders which had required him to pay maintenance to the wife and to disclose the true extent of his assets.
In ruling on the matter, the judge found that the husband was worth at least £300 million and that he was thus well able to afford any financial order made against him. When together, the couple had enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle, living in a palatial family compound in Oman and, latterly, in a £3 million house in London. They had moved to England so that their three children would receive a private English education.
The wife sought a lump sum in excess of £46 million in order to maintain her lifestyle. The judge, however, noted that the husband had lawfully divorced her in Oman and, in that country, she would be entitled to almost no financial provision. The couple had spent most of their married life in Oman, the husband was an Omani citizen and it was right that some regard be paid to the state of Omani law.
The husband’s fortune being essentially derived from inheritance, the judge found that the sharing principle did not apply and that the wife’s award should be calculated on the basis of her reasonable needs. The husband was ordered to pay her a lump sum of £24,075,000, including £2,965,000 in respect of child maintenance and school fees. The award represented about 7 per cent of his minimum fortune.