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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The Conservatives have failed on home ownership. Here's how Labour can do better

Far from helping first-time buyers, the government is robbing Peter to pay Paul

Making it easier for people to own their own first home is something to be celebrated. Most families would love to have the financial stability and permanency of home ownership. But the plans announced today to build 200,000 ‘starter homes’ are too little, too late.

The dire housing situation of our Greater London constituency of Mitcham & Morden is an indicator of the crisis across the country. In our area, house prices have increased by a staggering 42 per cent over the last three years alone, while the cost of private rent has increased by 22 per cent. Meanwhile, over 8200 residents are on the housing register, families on low incomes bidding for the small number of affordable housing in the area. In sum, these issues are making our area increasingly unaffordable for buyers, private renters and those in need of social and council housing.

But under these new plans, which sweep away planning rules that require property developers to build affordable homes for rent in order to increase the building homes for first-time buyers, a game of political smoke and mirrors is being conducted. Both renters and first-time buyers are desperately in need of government help, and a policy that pits the two against one another is robbing Peter to pay Paul. We need homes both to rent and to buy.

The fact is, removing the compulsion to provide properties for affordable rent will be disastrous for the many who cannot afford to buy. Presently, over half of the UK’s affordable homes are now built as part of private sector housing developments. Now this is going to be rolled back, and local government funds are increasingly being cut while housing associations are losing incentives to build, we have to ask ourselves, who will build the affordable properties we need to rent?

On top of this, these new houses are anything but ‘affordable’. The starter homes would be sold at a discount of 20 per cent, which is not insignificant. However, the policy is a non-starter for families on typical wages across most of the country, not just in London where the situation is even worse. Analysis by Shelter has demonstrated that families working for average local earnings will be priced out of these ‘affordable’ properties in 58 per cent of local authorities by 2020. On top of this, families earning George Osborne’s new ‘National Living Wage’ will still be priced out of 98 per cent of the country.

So who is this scheme for? Clearly not typical earners. A couple in London will need to earn £76,957 in London and £50,266 in the rest of the country to benefit from this new policy, indicating that ‘starter homes’ are for the benefit of wealthy, young professionals only.

Meanwhile, the home-owning prospects of working families on middle and low incomes will be squeezed further as the ‘Starter Homes’ discounts are funded by eliminating the affordable housing obligations of private property developers, who are presently generating homes for social housing tenants and shared ownership. These more affordable rental properties will now be replaced in essence with properties that most people will never be able to afford. It is great to help high earners own their own first homes, but it is not acceptable to do so at the expense of the prospects of middle and low earners.

We desperately want to see more first-time home owners, so that working people can work towards something solid and as financially stable as possible, rather than being at the mercy of private landlords.

But this policy should be a welcome addition to the existing range of affordable housing, rather than seeking to replace them.

As the New Statesman has already noted, the announcement is bad policy, but great politics for the Conservatives. Cameron sounds as if he is radically redressing housing crisis, while actually only really making the crisis better for high earners and large property developers who will ultimately be making a larger profit.

The Conservatives are also redefining what the priorities of “affordable housing” are, for obviously political reasons, as they are convinced that homeowners are more likely to vote for them - and that renters are not. In total, we believe this is indicative of crude political manoeuvring, meaning ordinary, working people lose out, again and again.

Labour needs to be careful in its criticism of the plans. We must absolutely fight the flawed logic of a policy that strengthens the situation of those lucky enough to already have the upper hand, at the literal expense of everyone else. But we need to do so while demonstrating that we understand and intrinsically share the universal aspiration of home security and permanency.

We need to fight for our own alternative that will broaden housing aspirations, rather than limit them, and demonstrate in Labour councils nationwide how we will fight for them. We can do this by fighting for shared ownership, ‘flexi-rent’ products, and rent-to-buy models that will make home ownership a reality for people on average incomes, alongside those earning most.

For instance, Merton council have worked in partnership with the Y:Cube development, which has just completed thirty-six factory-built, pre-fabricated, affordable apartments. The development was relatively low cost, constructed off-site, and the apartments are rented out at 65 per cent of the area’s market rent, while also being compact and energy efficient, with low maintenance costs for the tenant. Excellent developments like this also offer a real social investment for investors, while providing a solid return too: in short, profitability with a strong social conscience, fulfilling the housing needs of young renters.

First-time ownership is rapidly becoming a luxury that fewer and fewer of us will ever afford. But all hard-working people deserve a shot at it, something that the new Conservative government struggle to understand.