Dubai Ruler’s Record Divorce Settlement Reveals Why Wealthy Couples Choose to Divorce in the UK

January is notoriously the month in which more couples enquire about divorce than any other. And if you are a member of the super-rich who earns less than your partner, England may be the best place to secure a highly favourable settlement.

The most recent case to hit headlines is that of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, and his ex-wife Princess Haya. The Sheikh has been ordered to pay his ex-wife and their two children around £550 million, in what is believed to be the highest divorce settlement ever awarded by a British court. 

An attractive location for high-value divorces

Individuals with residences in several countries typically have a choice about where they file for divorce. London is a popular choice for high-value divorces since the courts are more likely to divide assets equally, even if one partner has brought more financially to the marriage. This makes the UK an attractive location for the financially weaker spouse who brought less money to the relationship.

One of the most important factors in the UK’s popularity is the huge amount of discretion the courts have to be flexible with maintenance awards. The judge can take all the circumstances into account, whereas in other jurisdictions there’s less leeway in what judges can award. 

In the ruler of Dubai case, the court heard how, before their split, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum provided his wife with £92 million a year for household and personal spending, as well as access to a fleet of private jets, helicopters, a superyacht and luxury properties around the world. 

Their children received allowances of approximately £10 million each per year.

The judge took all of these factors into account in his record-breaking award. Holidays and travel expenses formed a significant part of the maintenance settlement, as well as payments for leisure and £5m for Princess Haya to buy a few horses and sustain them for several years.  

While Judge Moor declined to comment on the amounts involved in this case, he said he would do what is ‘reasonable’ while remembering the exceptional wealth and remarkable standard of living enjoyed by Princess Haya and her children during the marriage.

What’s the process for divorcing in London?

If you live in the UK or you are a UK national currently living abroad, then you generally have the option of bringing your divorce proceedings in the UK. The starting point is to file a divorce petition, proving that your marriage has irretrievably broken down. 

The first important court order you will encounter is the Decree Nisi, which confirms that you are legally entitled to a divorce and all the legal requirements to obtain a divorce have been met. Six weeks and one day after the date of the Decree Nisi, you can apply for a Decree Absolute. This is the document that formally ends the marriage. 

The Decree Nisi is a vital step when dealing with the financial aspects of a divorce, since the court cannot make a financial order until the Decree Nisi has been granted.   

Special considerations in high-value divorce

Unlike in other jurisdictions, courts in the UK do not generally look at the couple’s behaviour during a marriage when making a financial settlement. The only concern is the fair distribution of wealth. In most cases, this means that the judge will endeavour to meet each partner’s needs in a way that enables them to transition to independence without suffering a significant drop in their standard of living. 

In high-net-worth cases where there is enormous wealth, the judge has discretion to determine that a spouse ‘needs’ a very large sum, even if the amounts appear staggering to most people. 

Even if the initial divorce has occurred overseas, the English court has the power to step in and make a financial order as if divorce had been granted in England. This can result in far higher lifestyle-based settlements than a spouse may achieve in other jurisdictions, securing London’s reputation as the ‘divorce capital of the world.’ 

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