A 48 year-old Russian woman has been awarded a £53 million divorce settlement by the High Court, an award thought to the highest to date in a contested divorce.
The case of M v M and Yuri Barkov and others concerned an unnamed couple who met in 1987 while working in a factory. They married in Russia in 1991, and had two children together, now aged 15 and 19. The family moved to England in 2005.
The husband’s business ventures proved highly successful after the marriage and the couple soon became wealthy, buying properties in Russia and later in England, including a home in London worth almost £4 million.
The couple separated in 2008 and the wife filed for divorce the following year in Russia. However, after realising the case could be dealt with by the English courts, the wife then applied for financial relief in this country, under part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, which governs such applications after a divorce abroad.
It proved to be an expensive battle for her share of the family fortune. The wife was forced to spend £1.4 million tracking down her husband’s assets.
Sitting the High Court earlier this week, Mrs Justice King said:
“The case has been a fantastic charade with the husband a shady puppet master in the background. At fabulous cost – £1.4m and counting – those representing the wife have crossed and re-crossed the globe in an attempt to trace the husband’s assets, every penny of which has been acquired during the marriage.”
The husband was remote and “elusive” throughout the hearing. The judge noted:
“He has neither attended hearings nor complied with orders of the Court; he is in contempt many times over.”
The husband ‘s wealth was estimated at £107 million, of which the majority – approximately £91.6 million – is tied up in properties in England and Russia.
Mrs Justice King awarded the wife precisely half, including a lump sum payment of £38 million and the couple’s UK properties. The couple’s children were also granted payments of £20,000 per year until they finished university.
The judge declared:
“The wife is a fully contributing wife, all the wealth was created during the course of a substantial marriage of 17 years. The starting point must be that the assets are shared equally. The husband has failed, whether in writing or by attending court to make any submissions to the contrary.”
The judge expressed concerns about enforcement of the lump sum award, but said the legal principle that assets should be shared equally on divorce must be upheld.
“In my judgment this is a case where, notwithstanding the formidable challenges for the wife in enforcing a lump sum order, it would be iniquitous if the husband was permitted, by virtue of his appalling litigation misconduct, to drive the court into an order which is substantially less than that which by virtue of the sharing principle, she would otherwise receive.”