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English Court Deals Justice In Saudi Divorce?

View profile for Kiren Dhillon
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Ex-model Christina Estrada won a £75 million divorce settlement from Saudi billionaire, Sheikh Walid Juffali. 

Estrada obtained leave under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 to apply for financial relief in England after being divorced in Saudi Arabia. She was seeking a settlement to fund her lavish lifestyle and shopping habit. She argued that she was used to opulence and she required a large sum to meet her reasonable needs.

The husband argued he had diplomatic immunity (he was exempt from certain laws and taxes granted to diplomats by the state in which they are working) and the English court therefore had no jurisdiction over him. However, as he was habitually resident here, the wife argued that the English court did have jurisdiction. The court looked at the facts of where he and his family lived their lives and, although he did not have permanent residency in England, the facts in this case verified that the running of his life and private affairs occurred in England. Therefore, England seized jurisdiction in relation to the wife’s application for a financial order. 

The purpose of this part of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act is to protect litigants who have been divorced in another country, but who have substantial connections with England. If there is either no financial order in that other country or if the result is so exceptional (perhaps the case was not appropriately conducted or resulted in a financial order which is not sufficient or could not be implemented) it is right that England offers that person protection here. It is not intended to be a “second bite at the cherry” as one of the leading authorities referred to it, but it could be said to provide a just solution in the small minority of cases where it is applicable. In this case the wife would have received nothing at all in Saudi Arabia and therefore it was felt fair to allow her to seek an award in England. 

The amount of financial provision awarded under Part III will depend on all the circumstances of the case. In the current case it was many millions, but three general principles will be applied and every case is different. First, the welfare of any child of the marriage should be considered. Second, Part III cannot be used to top up a financial settlement made in a foreign Court. Third, where possible the reasonable needs of each spouse should be considered.

It can be seen from the Estrada case, and others with similarities, that London is maintaining its reputation as the divorce capital of the world and therefore its courts are increasingly becoming the playing field for the super-wealthy. The growing trend for international families where the parties have connections with various countries makes the application of family law increasingly complex and the taking of specialist advice ever more vital. 

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