Tag: Foreign Divorce Laws

International Divorce and Jurisdiction

If Britain has the biggest pay-outs for divorcing spouses, can anyone file for divorce there? The ex-wife of a Russian oligarch, who was denied permission to pursue her international divorce claims against her husband’s $19 billion fortune, just found out about jurisdiction the hard way.

International Divorce and Jurisdiction

To Russia With Love

Natalia Potanina, 58 was attempting to secure an increased pay out through English courts from her former husband, Vladimir Potanin – Russia’s second richest man, claiming that the initial amount she received left her facing ‘hardship’ and did not meet her ‘reasonable needs.’

Ms Potanina claimed that she was only given $41.5 million when the couple divorced in 2014 but deserved considerably more because of the role she played in helping to build her husband’s extensive business empire.

She was attempting to launch a case in the English courts, where divorce pay outs are notoriously high, protesting that when she tried in Russia she got considerably less because of her husband’s ‘wealth, power and influence,’ which denied her a fair settlement.

She also alleged that he had secreted his vast wealth out of her reach in a complex web of offshore companies while pleading to judges in Moscow that he had virtually no assets.

International Divorce Issues

International divorce often brings up the issue of jurisdiction. Who sues whom, how do you sue for divorce, and in what country are problems in an international divorce case. The answers are more difficult than people think as I have written before.

A British divorce might give more money because British courts can disregard prenuptial agreements, and the cost of living is high in London. However, in Florida, the outcome could be different still.

Rules about children and hiding assets is a problem in every divorce, especially in international cases. The problem of discovery of hidden wealth is even bigger in an international divorce because multiple countries, and multiple rules on discovery, can be involved. The problems in an international divorce are more complicated because hiding assets from a spouse is much easier in some countries than in others.

Florida, at one extreme, requires complete disclosure of assets and liabilities. In fact, in Florida certain financial disclosure is mandatory. At the other extreme, are countries which require very little disclosure from people going through divorce.

Choosing possible countries to file your divorce in can be construed as “forum shopping”. The European Union introduced a reform called Brussels II, which prevents “forum shopping”, with a rule that the first court to be approached decides the divorce. But the stakes are high: ending up in the wrong legal system, or with the wrong approach, may mean not just poverty but misery.

Residency for divorce is a very important jurisdictional requirement in every case. Generally, the non-filing party need not be a resident in the state in order for the court to divorce the parties under the divisible divorce doctrine. The court’s personal jurisdiction over the non-filing spouse is necessary only if the court enters personal orders regarding the spouse.

The durational domicile or residency requirement goes to the heart of the court’s ability to divorce the parties, because the residency of a party to a divorce creates a relationship with the state to justify its exercise of power over the marriage.

Back in the USSR

Lawyers acting for her husband took the matter to the High Court in London, asking for her English legal bid to be thrown out during a three-day hearing which took place last month. Delivering his judgment, Mr. Justice Cohen said that the claim that Mrs. Potanina received $41.5 million was ‘untrue and that the real figure was actually over $84 million. In addition to this, she also received $7.3 million in child maintenance. She also purchased a home in Long Island, New York, soon after the divorce, which is worth $6.5 million.

To most people it would seem inconceivable that someone who has received an award of $40-80 million could argue that reasonable needs have not been met, but each case is fact-specific and I accept that the wife could argue that her reasonable needs have not been met. However, the other 16 factors mitigate strongly against her claim proceeding.

If this claim is allowed to proceed then there is effectively no limit to divorce tourism”

Potanina is “very disappointed” and plans to appeal, the judge said. Lawyers for both sides declined to comment. Potanin, Russia’s richest tycoon with $27 billion fortune, is considered to be one of the few “oligarchs,” who became rich under first Russian President Boris Yeltsin. He also plays hockey at the so-called Night Hockey league, sometimes against President Vladimir Putin.

The judge dismissed arguments from Potanina that she couldn’t obtain justice in Russia, saying the local courts properly applied the law. Potanina said that her husband was “too powerful.”

“I do not believe that there is anything more I could have done to obtain justice in Russia. It was an impossible task,” she said in a written submission cited by the judge.

The couple lived in Russia for the length of their marriage, before Potanina moved to England in 2014, the judge said. Her first contact after her arrival appears to have been to obtain advice from London divorce lawyers, the judge said in his ruling.

The Bloomberg article is here.

 

An American learns about Divorce and Housing in Saudi Arabia

An American nurse involved in a long divorce battle in Saudi Arabia, and claims authorities have consistently discriminated against her because she is a foreign woman, is getting a quick lesson on who pays for temporary housing costs in the desert kingdom.

Divorce Housing Costs

Shifting Sands

Teresa Malof, 51, says she has been mistreated in her attempts to divorce her ex-husband Mazen al-Mubarak, the father to her three children. Malof, who is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, married al-Mubarak in 2000 and filed for divorce in 2015. While the divorce was approved, the settlement is now bogged down in the courts and entering its fifth year.

al-Mubarak, the son of Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to Qatar, has used his wife’s unfamiliarity with the Saudi legal system and inability to speak Arabic to turn the tables against her, she told Insider.

The most obvious injustice, in Malof’s view, is that al-Mubarak lived alone in a house in Riyadh for many years, for which she paid the mortgage of $2,831 a month for years while he lived in it alone.

According to Insider, which has reviewed official Saudi court documents, the court documents confirm that she launched legal proceedings to evict her ex-husband, made payments for the house while he lived there, and that she submitted formal complaints about the judge’s conduct.

It came to a head in August 2018 when she broke into her house and changed the locks while al-Mubarak was abroad, she said. Malof claimed that recently the judge in her case abruptly annulled her divorce, making her technically married again. Malof contends that the judge did not have the power to do this.

“I just want it to be finished,” Malof told Insider. “Foreign women are discriminated against here in the courts.”

The US Embassy in Riyadh confirmed to Insider that it was assisting Malof. US Embassy press attaché Peter Brown said: “We are aware of the case and providing appropriate consular services. Due to pending legal proceedings, we have nothing further to share.”

Florida Divorce Housing Costs

I’ve written about the marital house during a divorce before. In a dissolution of marriage, temporary alimony can be awarded so that the home mortgage is paid for. Each party’s sources of income and ability to pay are factors to be considered in determining whether alimony is appropriate, and if so, in what amounts.

There are a few other issues when it comes to housing in divorce:

Children’s Issues

Until a divorce parenting plan in place, if you are interested in maintaining a meaningful relationship in your child’s life, leaving the home before a timesharing agreement is entered may show a lack of real interest in the child’s daily life.

Moving out can create the appearance of a new ‘primary residential parent’ by default. Worse, if the process takes a long time, it creates a new status quo.

Cost

The person leaving during a divorce may still have to contribute for the expenses of the home while also paying for a new home. It can be costly, and prohibitive expensive when you know that the process will take a long time.

Settlement

Staying in the same home could create an incentive to negotiate a final settlement because living with your soon to be ex-spouse is very uncomfortable. However, if someone moves out, the person remaining in the home is sitting pretty and may be less inclined to settle.

Fold Up the Tent?

Malof told Insider that her house, in the al-Khozama district of Riyadh, was part of the agreement when the two split. She said al-Mubarak agreed to pay for $183,000 for it, but has yet to produce the money. Malof has been prevented from selling the house by the judge’s decision to freeze the deed at the request of al-Mubarak. Malof has compiled a wide-ranging list of grievances against the court.

She claims that the judge has held court hearings without her knowledge, has omitted evidence from court minutes, has refused to give her an interpreter, credited her with making statements that she never uttered, and has met with al-Mubarak separately behind closed doors.

Malof says she was not informed of hearings on April 11, June 25, and September 5 last year. The last of these, she says, was the one where the judge froze the deed on her house, blocking her from selling it. Malof told Insider that the judge “has put several times in the minutes that there is an ‘agreement’ between me and al-Mubarak and the house is shared, which is not true.” Minutes are the formal legal record of how a case is progressing.

The case follows that of Bethany Vierra, a US citizen who became trapped in Saudi Arabia by the Kingdom’s guardianship laws in March, and later lost custody of her child when her ex-husband used images of her in a bikini to show she was unfit to parent.

Malof’s and Vierra’s stories highlight the reality for non-Saudis under their legal system, which is based on the Qur’an, which contains God’s revelations to the Prophet Muhammad, and the Sunnah, the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.

In some cases, evidence submitted to court is invalid unless witnessed by two Muslim men.

Malof was given an attorney by the Saudi government’s Human Rights Commission at first, but has now hired her own, Hazim al-Madani. “I have lived in this country for more than twenty years” she told Insider. “Going public and talking badly about Saudi Arabia has never been my goal. However, what choice do I have?”

The Insider article is here.

 

Sharia Divorce in Germany

The European Court of Justice is considering whether a foreign divorce, granted by a Sharia court, is valid in Germany. The German case raises the issue of when foreign laws conflict with rights protected in other countries, an issue Florida has grappled with.

Sharia Divorce in Europe

On Thursday this week, the advocate general at the European Court of Justice (ECJ), issued an opinion saying that a foreign divorce under Sharia law should not be recognized.

The ECJ judgment is still pending; however, judges often follow such recommendations.

The case involves a couple from Syria with German nationality. They married in 1999 in Homs, Syria, before moving to Germany. Four years ago, in a Syrian Sharia court, the husband ended the marriage by repeating the word “talaq” (“I divorce you”) three times.

Florida Divorces and Sharia

I have written extensively on foreign divorce before, and the triple Talaq issue specifically. As the European case suggests, the Triple Talaq allows Muslim men to leave their wives instantaneously by saying “talaq,” meaning divorce, three times.

The thousand-year-old custom of triple talaq was recently banned by the Indian Supreme Court.

Florida has resolved the issue of the enforcement of foreign divorce in Florida to a certain extent when it enacted Florida Statute 61.0401. The statute prohibits courts in Florida from enforcing:

  • A choice of law provision in a contract selecting the law of a foreign country which contravenes the strong public policy of this state or that is unjust or unreasonable.
  • A forum selection clause in a contract that selects a forum in a foreign country if the clause is shown to be unreasonable or unjust or if strong public policy would prohibit the enforceability of the clause.
  • A judgment or order of a court of a foreign country is not entitled to comity if the foreign court offends the public policy of this state.

Florida Statutes do not mention Sharia, or any religious divorce law at all. However, in an international divorce case in Florida, to the extent the Syrian divorce (triple talaq) law violates the U.S. and Florida Constitution, the Syrian law may not be enforceable.

The European Divorce Debate

The European Union Divorce Law Pact, known in family law circles as “Rome III Regulation”, governs the recognition of private divorces, meaning divorces that were not granted by a state court.

Under Rome III, a foreign law is not applied in European courts if men and women do not have equal power in divorce proceedings.

Many Germans are concerned about the recognition of foreign divorces, especially when they are based on Sharia. “Many people have a one-sided understanding of Sharia law. There are problematic areas in traditional Sharia law, which allows corporal punishment for criminals; is patriarchal and does not recognize gender or religious equality.

When foreign laws are applied in Germany, their effect is subject to scrutiny, such that if it results in gross injustice and a violation of fundamental rights, the state will correct it. This has been standard practice in Germany for 100 years now.

“This is an election year. Europe is losing faith. If the ECJ now said, ‘This is applicable; we will examine the individual cases,’ then the headlines would read: ECJ says Sharia divorce is valid. And then I would not like to see how anti-Islam groups such as Pegida, AfD and the like would react.”

The Deutsche Welle, article is available here.

 

Florida Divorce and Foreign Laws

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in International Child Custody on Thursday, October 13, 2016.

Ms. Omari married a secular man in a secular marriage in New York. They later had a Muslim ceremony after moving to Lebanon. When they divorced, her religious marriage came back to haunt her.

As The Atlantic reports, although her husband was not religious, under Sharia family law in Lebanon, the father was granted custody of the couple’s two sons. And when he took them — along with all the furniture — there was nothing she could do.

“He became an Islamist overnight.”

This becomes an important matter in international custody disputes. In Lebanon, all matters of personal status — marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance — are governed by religious codes, of which there are 15 recognized by the state.

Each religious sect follows a distinct set of personal state laws (several of the country’s 18 sects fall under a single jurisdiction). By shunting citizens into religious communities, the personal status laws fracture the country’s four-million-strong population along sectarian lines in an intimate, personal way.

The 15 different sets of religious laws in Lebanon converge on one issue: all of them discriminate against women in one or more fields. For example:

– Evangelical Christians set the minimum age of marriage at 16 for males and 14 for females, as does the Armenian Orthodox Church.

– A Druze woman needs her male guardian’s permission to marry if she is under 21.

– For Sunnis and Shi’a, a male witness to a marriage is considered equivalent to two females.

The law in Lebanon is a by-product of Ottoman and colonial history. The early Ottomans gave authority over family law to four recognized religious groups.

I’ve written about the intersection of religion and divorce before. Florida passed Florida Statute 61.0401, which prohibits courts in Florida from enforcing:

– A choice of law provision in a contract selecting the law of a foreign country which contravenes the strong public policy of this state or that is unjust or unreasonable.

– A forum selection clause in a contract that selects a forum in a foreign country if the clause is shown to be unreasonable or unjust or if strong public policy would prohibit the enforceability of the clause.

– A judgment or order of a court of a foreign country is not entitled to comity if the foreign court offends the public policy of this state.

Florida’s law does not mention Sharia. In fact, no religion is mentioned at all. However, in an international child custody case in Florida, to the extent Lebanon’s law violates Constitutional rights here, the Lebanese law may not be enforceable.

The Atlantic article is here

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