More evidence that London is the divorce capital of the world

Another Russian divorce case.

London’s status as the divorce capital of the world was enhanced by the news in July this year that Alexei Golubovich and Olga Mirimskaya have apparently issued proceedings in London’s High Court to deal with their English property, following their divorce in Russia last year. 

They are reported to be the first foreign dynasty in which two consecutive generations have sought the aid of the English courts. Their son, in fact, tried to avoid the English courts and initially succeeded by winning the "race’" to issue divorce proceedings outside England and Wales. The Court of Appeal subsequently held that his wife was entitled to commence financial proceedings here because there was a connection to England (she was living here).  

She succeeded in winning an award of just over £2.8m following a marriage of just 18 months. Commentators were critical that the decision would encourage people to move here to take advantage of the more generous divorce legislation.   

At the centre of this latest row is a mansion on Upper Mall in Chiswick alleged to be worth £6.4m. Both claim it is theirs, although it is currently registered in Mr Golubovich’s name.

In English divorce cases, it does not normally matter in whose name a property is registered. The court has the power to transfer assets from one to the other and the recent Prest case confirmed that if a third party owns property on trust for one spouse, a transfer to the other can be ordered. 

In smaller money cases a court will not normally order a transfer to a spouse if it would financially prejudice the other (e.g. an order that means one party remains liable under the other’s mortgage indefinitely, since this affects their mortgage capacity and prejudices their own ability to rehouse!).  

In cases where the matrimonial home is the largest asset and it is required to meet the needs of the spouse caring for the children, it is common to have a "Mesher" Order so that the property is sold upon specified triggering events, such as when the children attain the age of 18 years or cease full-time education. Where both parties want to retain the matrimonial home and there is sufficient money for one of them to do so, emotions inevitably run high.  

In a divorce case, the judge has the option to order a sale of property and other assets. When a couple are arguing about contents, being told that they face receiving just half the proceeds of sale of their second-hand goods and then having to replace them often leads to a pragmatic approach being adopted by both.

With property, if a sale is ordered potentially either or both of the couple can make an offer. In some cases, the issue can go to sealed bids with both (and any interested third parties) having to make offers by a certain time deadline. This can, in practice, mean one pays significantly over the odds for a property he or she particularly wants. Arguably, if the other wanted it as well, it may make losing out less of a bitter pill to swallow.  

According to press reports, the arguments being run by Mr Golubovich and Mrs Mirimskaya are that each says that it was the intention that the property would be beneficially theirs.  

Documentation will apparently show that initially the house was bought by an offshore company in 2004 and then transferred to Mrs Mirimskaya’s name in 2005.  In 2008 the house was transferred into her husband’s name, but she says it remained the common intention of both of them that she would continue to be the 100 per cent beneficial owner of the property. 

The court will no doubt want to hear the circumstances in which this 2008 transfer took place. It may become relevant that in the latter years, according to media reports, the property was occupied by Mr Golubovich, the couple’s two younger children, niece and mother-in-law, while Mrs Mirimskaya spent most of her time outside the United Kingdom.  

He will apparently insist the 2008 transfer was part of the agreed division of their assets and if the documentation confirms this, it is hard to see on what basis the court would order a transfer back, particularly given the developments with prenuptial and postnuptial agreements.  

Until more information is available about both their cases, it is impossible to predict how this one will develop. In choosing to resolve matters through court as opposed to trying mediation or collaboration, what is certain is that both will spend significant sums on legal costs. Unlike most people, they can afford to do so.  

This piece first appeared on Spear's magazine.

Kirstie Law is a partner at Thomson Snell & Passmore

Another Russian divorce in London. Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

Photo: Getty Images
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Cameron needs to decide what he thinks about Russia

David Cameron's words suggest one thing, his actions quite another.

David Cameron needs to decide whether he takes Russia seriously.

He certainly talks a good game, calling Vladimir Putin to account for crimes against Ukrainian sovereignty and for supporting the wrong side in Syria, claiming credit for bolstering the post-Crimea sanctions regime, and demanding that Moscow’s behaviour change. And the new Strategic Defence & Security Review, published last week, puts Russia front and centre among the threats Britain faces.

The problem is, his government’s foreign policy seems calculated to make no one happier than Putin himself.

At fault is not a failure of analysis. It has taken Whitehall 19 months since Moscow annexed Crimea to develop a new Russia policy, replacing the old aspirations of “strategic partnership based on common values”, but the conviction that Russia be treated as a significant threat to the U.K.’s security and prosperity is solid.

Five years ago, when the coalition government published the last Strategic Defence & Security Review, Russia was mentioned once, in the context of rising global powers with whom London could partner to help solve planetary problems, from nuclear proliferation to climate change. The new SDSR tells a very different story. Russia gets 28 mentions this time around, characterised as a “state threat” that “may feel tempted to act aggressively against NATO allies.” Russia’s annexation of Crimea and instigation of a separatist civil war in eastern Ukraine are mentioned in the same sentence with Assad’s chemical weapons attacks on Syrian civilians and the rise of the Islamic State as key examples of how the world is becoming a more dangerous place.

How that threat will be countered, however, is not a question Whitehall can answer: it is a question for Westminster, and it gets to the heart of where this government sees its place in the world, and in Europe in particular. What Whitehall cannot say – but what the politicians must recognise – is this: the best bulwark against the Kremlin is a strengthened European Union, with more integrated markets and the force to push a concerted foreign policy in the Eastern Neighbourhood. And that recognition requires Cameron to decide whether Putin poses a greater challenge than Nigel Farage.

The SDSR is right to note that the danger of a military confrontation with Russia is remote. Just in case, the Government has committed to bolstering aerial defences, contributing to NATO’s rapid reaction capabilities and maintaining the sanctions regime until a full settlement is reached that restores Ukrainian sovereignty. These are all reasonable measures, which will go some distance to ensuring that Moscow understands the risks of further escalation in the near term. But they do nothing to address the longer term problem.

From a hard-security perspective, Russia is a nuisance. The real danger is in the threat Moscow poses to what the SDSR calls the “rules-based order” – that system of institutions, agreements and understandings that underpin stability and prosperity on the European continent. That order is about more than respecting national borders, important as that is. It is also about accepting that markets are impartially regulated, that monopolies are disallowed and political and economic power reside in institutions, rather than in individuals. It is, in other words, about accepting rules that are almost the polar opposite of the system that Russia has built over the past 25 years, an order based on rents, clientelism and protected competitive positions.

Russia, after all, went to war over a trade treaty. It invaded Ukraine and annexed part of its territory to prevent the full implementation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement that was designed to make Ukraine function more like Europe and less like Russia. From Moscow’s point of view, the European project is a very real geopolitical threat, one that promises to reduce the territory in which Russia can compete and, eventually, to increase the pressure on Russia itself to change. In somewhat less pernicious ways Moscow is seeking similarly to derail Moldova’s and Georgia’s European integration, while working hard to keep Belarus and Armenia from straying.

This is not a problem of vision or diplomacy, a failure to convince Putin of the value of the European way of doing things. For Putin and those on whose behalf he governs, the European way of doing things carries negative value. And unless the basic structure of politics and economics in Russia shifts, that calculation won’t change when Putin himself leaves the Kremlin. For the foreseeable future, Russia’s rulers will be willing to go to extraordinary lengths to prevent the widening of Europe, at the cost of instability and dysfunction in the region.

European willingness is another question. A chorus of euro=sceptics both left and right have demanded that Europe stop provoking the Russian bear, leaving the Eastern Neighbourhood countries to fend for themselves – sacrificing Kiev’s sovereignty to Moscow in order to bolster their own sovereignty from Brussels. Cracks, too, are emerging in the centre of the political spectrum: as French President Francois Hollande pledged to work with Moscow to fight ISIS in Syria, Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared that such an alliance would necessitate the lifting of sanctions on Russia, thus trading stability in Syria for instability in Ukraine.

As a member of the EU, London has a role to play. Together with Berlin, London could exert pressure on Paris and keep the margins of the political spectrum marginal. London could through its weight behind a common energy market, forcing Gazprom to play by EU competition rules. London could bolster anti-corruption systems and ensure that ill-gotten gains have no safe haven in Europe. London could insist on the legitimacy of the European project from one end of the continent to the other.

Instead, London is threatening Brexit, relinquishing any leverage over its European allies, and seeking EU reforms that would eviscerate the common energy market, common financial regulation, the common foreign and security policy and other key tools in the relationship with Russia.

In their February 2015 report on EU-Russian relations, the House of Lords raised the question of “whether Europe can be secure and prosperous if Russia continues to be governed as it is today.” To be sure, Europe can’t change Russia’s government and shouldn’t try. But by insisting on its own rules – both in how it governs its internal markets and in how it pursues its foreign policy – Europe can change the incentives Russia’s government faces.

The question, then, to Cameron is this: Whose rules would Westminster rather see prevail in the Eastern Neighbourhood, Europe’s or Russia’s?

Samuel A. Greene is Director of the King’s Russia Institute, King’s College London.