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A Russian Oligarch's Divorce Case: The Implications

Jonathan Day, 9 October 2019

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The author of this article considers a recent case of a Russian oligarch and his former wife, and what that means for HNW divorce cases decided in England and Wales.

The recent legal case of a woman divorced from her “oligarch” husband, a man valued as having $19.4 billion in wealth, is the kind of case that triggers the usual salivating attention of the mainstream press. Even at the rather more sober end of the commentariat, however, are those who look at such cases to find out what lessons to draw. London’s courts have, of course, long been a venue of choice for couples from the former Soviet Union seeking to get what they think are the best likely outcomes. 

In this article, Jonathan Day, a solicitor at Stowe Family Law, runs through the case’s details and ponders its implications for the future. The editors of this news service are pleased to share these opinions. We do not necessarily endorse all contributors’ views and urge readers who wish to do so to respond. Email tom.burroughes@wealthbriefing.com and jackie.bennion@clearviewpublishing.com

It is understood that Ms Potanina is seeking financial relief in England, following a divorce from her oligarch husband, Vladimir Potanin. The parties divorced in Russia in 2014 after a 29-year relationship. Although the financial settlement she received is not public knowledge, it is generally accepted to be considerably less than the sum she would have received if the divorce had taken place in England and Wales.

Having previously worked on the Russian desk of a private bank in London, I am now regularly instructed by Russian clients. I have met with a number of Russian wives in London and unfortunately, the position that Ms Potanina finds herself in is not uncommon. 

Mr Potanin is recognised as being one of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs, with Forbes valuing his wealth at $19.4 billion. The starting point, were Ms Potanina to divorce her husband in England and Wales, would have been a 50 per cent share of Mr Potanin’s considerable wealth. Of course, the actual settlement is likely to be less than a full $9.7 billion, but still it would have been a very large award. 

It is likely that Mr Potanin would have been advised on the risks of a divorce taking place in London and this is probably why he would have wanted the divorce to be rushed through in Russia. If Ms Potanina is now able to show that her divorce in Russia was “unfair” and if she is able to show that she has a “real connection” to England, then she may be able to apply for a “top up” financial settlement in England pursuant to Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. 
 

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