London is quickly becoming the divorce capital of the world, especially for the super rich — not all of whom are U.K. citizens.
Thousands of wealthy Chinese, Russian, American and European couples seek divorce in front of a judge in England. Many of the individuals in these relationships also work in the financial district in London or own some property in the nation.
One such couple are millionaire couple Khoo Kay Peng, a businessman worth around $640 million, and Pauline Chai, a former Malaysian beauty queen seen frequently in the society pages in the U.K. Chai is especially famous for her 1,000 pairs of shoes and £22,000 monthly budget for a Rolls Royce and chauffeur.
Although they live and work in the U.K., Peng and Chai may have chosen England, rather than Malaysia, for their divorce due to one major reason.
“England has become very attractive for wives,” said Sandra Davis, head of the family law department at Mishcon de Reya. The reason? “Awards here are considerably higher than almost anywhere in the world.”
Davis represented Diana, Princess of Wales in her divorce from Prince Charles and Jerry Hall, the U.S. model who divorced singer Mick Jagger.
Although Peng’s lawyers wanted the case to be heard in Malaysia instead, a judge at London’s High Court ruled that the divorce could take place there.
Chai was happy with the news. “I am pleased the judge recognised my connection with this great country,” she said in a statement.
“I am so pleased that I, my children and indeed my shoes have found a home here.”
Chai is represented by a legal team led by Ayesha Vardag, the “Diva of Divorce.” Because Chai has lived in England for a certain amount of time, in a £30 million mansion outside of London, she is able to keep her case in the country.
Due to the couple’s status, the case could set a new record for the biggest divorce payout the country has ever seen. This is due in part to the length of the marriage: over 40 years.
“This represents an extreme example of Forum Shopping. Forum shopping in the St. Louis Metro area often takes a more down to earth approach,” says Carla J. Zolman, Zolman Law Firm. “For example, once the couple separates, they sometimes end up living in two different counties. When someone approaches our firm to file for divorce, we discuss the options available to them as to which counties they may file in. Some Judges are more open to 50/50 custody than others. Once you add in the Judge’s viewpoint on custody, child support, etc., it becomes imperative to have an attorney on your side that understands all the underlying currents.”
England is a popular destination for divorce because of a ruling in 2000, which splits marital assets 50/50 but favors the less wealthy spouse. As a result, awards in England are generally much larger than they would be in other countries.
Pre-nuptial agreements are not considered legally binding in England, either.
But couples, super-rich or not, still must live in England for some time in order to divorce there.
Last month, an investigation found that 179 Italian couples who tried to avoid lengthy divorce proceedings in their own country had their English court-granted divorced canceled because they had never actually lived there. It turned out that an Italian agency had scammed the court by providing the couples and the court with fake English addresses.