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Will a student make Britain the world’s divorce capital?

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Students, bless them, have been in the news more than normal over the last few months over tuition fees. Universities will be able to charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees to balance a cut in funding announced in the Government spending review last year. The maximum had previously been capped at £3,290.

This will inevitably further impoverish the lowly student and do nothing to dispel the caricature of the dishevelled under-graduate in second hand clothes, paying for a loaf of bread with a cheque but still managing to spend plenty of time in the bar. In fact, it could mean they are still paying back student loans when they reach retirement age.

So 27-year-old fashion student Elena Golubovich is something of an anomaly. This is not because she is 27 and still lists her profession as “student”. It is because she has just been awarded £2.85 million in a divorce settlement by the British courts after separating from her international financier husband Ilva Golubovich after just 18 months.

The couple both come from rich Russian families and lived in a £4 million mansion in Kensington before they split in 2009. They are reported to have spent £2 million during their marriage and produced a daughter, now two, while earning nothing in the UK. Presumably though an international financier was making money somewhere, while a student was simply too busy worrying about tuition fees.

The problem was that the wife wanted a more generous settlement than the one at first granted in Russia. She had it invalidated by the High Court in London only to have that overturned by the Court of Appeal. However, she still gets £2.8 million of her ex-husband’s British assets under the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act – a decision upheld at the Appeal Court recently.

The concern now, is that this will “open the floodgates” to similar cases and see wealthy couples from around the world jetting into the UK to settle their divorce because we are a soft touch. This might not be bad news for specialist family law firms in terms of increased business, but it will send the wrong message, not just to the rest of the world about our laws, but also to “ordinary” couples in this country trying to reach a settlement on assets.

It could lead to people being more resistant to settling because they think they deserve more. It may mean more people appealing against decisions, taking up court time and adding to the cost of a separation, because they have read about these high profile cases.
Do we need a change in our system to tighten up on cases like this, should we pride ourselves that we are seen internationally as having a fair legal system – or should we simply hope for a change in human nature?

Andrew Woolley
Family Solicitor

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