Banker’s wife wins right to divorce husband in UK
The wife of a multi-millionaire banker has won the right to divorce him in the UK rather than in Germany, hoping to profit from English family courts’ perceived favourability to the partners of affluent spouses.
Catja Thum, 47, lodged her divorce petition in England in October 2015, just one day before her husband Oliver Thum, 46, did so in Germany.
Mr. Thum – who says that he was not made aware of proceedings filed in England until January 2016 – argued that his wife’s failure to notify him “reasonably promptly” should overrule her chronological priority.
However, Mrs. Thum – who says that she didn’t want to intensify conflict over the Christmas period, and halted proceedings after her husband made “intense and repeated pleas” to save the marriage – has now won the dispute over the venue.
Judges in London’s Appeal Court have ruled that her petition holds priority under European law, as the “first in time.”
The court heard that Mrs. Thum first decided to seek divorce on the grounds of continued infidelity, after her financier husband’s mistress allegedly accompanied him to his office party.
The couple – who were both born in Germany – moved to London in 2009 in order to send their children to English schools.
The ruling means that all legal decisions over the couple’s divorce – including division of marital assets – will be decided by an English judge.
England remains ‘divorce capital’ as judges favour 50-50 principle
The English and Welsh family courts are renowned for their ‘equitable’ approach to big-value marriage settlements, with House of Lords peer Baroness Deech describing the jurisdiction as “the divorce capital of Europe.”
Over the past ten years, the courts have awarded a number of record-breaking settlements to the former partners of wealthy individuals, with a case last year seeing £453m awarded to the ex-wife of a Russian oligarch who had argued for the settlement to be decided in Russia.
English judges generally abide by the ‘50-50’ principle – holding that wealth made during a marriage should be equally divided in separation, even in cases where one party earned all or most of the couple’s income.
The idea is to balance concrete, financial contributions against unpaid investments of time and labour which similarly benefited both parties.
As such, a breadwinning spouse’s financial contribution is offset by the value of family home-keeping, child-raising and other activities which enrich the couple’s joint life and facilitate the professional success of a high-earning spouse.
High-earning individuals can argue that their own, ‘special’, personal contribution to their professional success entitles them to more of the couple’s wealth, but this reasoning has only been successful in a handful of cases over the past twenty years.
Establishing the right to divorce in England and Wales
Couples need not live in England or Wales or be native to the UK to be entitled to petition for a divorce in the English courts.
However, petitioners must establish some sufficient connection to England and Wales as a jurisdiction.
Possible connections may include if one party is ‘domiciled’ in England and Wales – i.e. was born there, or has moved for life – or if one party is habitually resident in England or Wales.
For a petitioner to claim habitual residency, they must have been residing mostly in England and Wales for at least one year before commencing proceedings.
Where couples have married abroad, or where one partner or the couple’s children have non-UK nationality, petitioners may need to ensure that they have firm grounds for having the divorce settled in this jurisdiction.
Furthermore, England and Wales law will only allow a couple to divorce if they’ve been married for at least one year, and have justification on one of five grounds – “no-fault” divorces are currently not recognised.