The Court of Appeal has overturned a lower ruling and decided that the former wife of one of Russia’s richest men can bring her $6bn divorce claim in England, reinforcing London’s position as a global centre for such litigation.
The three judges said that Natalia Potanina could bring a financial claim in London against Vladimir Potanin, who is reputed to have a $20bn fortune and a controlling stake in Norilsk, one of the world’s largest producers of nickel and palladium.
Potanina was awarded approximately $41.5m as a divorce settlement in 2014 by Russia’s courts but says she should have received a far larger share of her husband’s fortune.
Potanina met her husband as a teenager and they married in Russia in 1983, living there for most of their marriage. They divorced in Russia in 2014, unleashing what an English High Court judge described as a “blizzard of litigation”. Potanina has had a home in England since late 2014.
She alleged in the English High Court that she “made exhaustive efforts to obtain justice in Russia” but claims the sum which she was awarded “does not even begin to meet my reasonable needs”.
Her attempt to bring proceedings in the English courts was blocked by the High Court in 2019 on the grounds that the couple had little connection with Britain. A judge said that if her claim went ahead, “there is effectively no limit to divorce tourism”.
The Court of Appeal judges reversed that decision on Thursday and granted her permission to bring the case in London’s High Court. It is unclear whether Potanin will appeal against their decision to the Supreme Court.
If it goes ahead, the case would be one of the biggest divorce award cases to be heard in the English courts. London has been called the “divorce capital of the world” due to courts awarding big financial payouts to financially weaker spouses — often wives.
Couples who have links to the UK but who have divorced overseas and believe they have been treated unfairly can apply for permission to bring their cases to be heard by the English courts under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984.
Simon Blain, partner at law firm Fosters, said: “This case will draw attention to the fact that it is an option for those who have received divorce settlements overseas to come to London to get a second bite at the cherry. Now Britain has left the EU, it may be that EU nationals also use the legislation to bring cases in London.”
However, those who have been awarded huge sums can find it difficult to enforce English court rulings if their former spouse’s assets or properties are not located in the UK.
Lady Justice Eleanor King noted in her ruling on Thursday that the 1984 Act was not just designed for families with “massive or even substantial wealth” to bring cases.
“No doubt to most people, whether affluent or poor, the sums received by the wife made her a rich woman. Everything is, however, relative. The wife’s settlement represented only a tiny proportion of the vast wealth of this family, all of which had been accumulated during this very long marriage,” she said.
Hughes Fowler Carruthers, the law firm representing Potanina, and Payne Hicks Beach, representing Potanin, both declined to comment. Norilsk Nickel and Interros, another company associated with Potanin, declined to comment.
Additional reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya in Moscow