US court overturns British divorcee's £3m settlement

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The Independent Online

A British mother awarded £3m after divorcing her wealthy American husband in London has had her claim struck out by a New York court in a ruling that is expected to be seized on by spouses trying to avoid expensive divorce settlements in this country.

A British mother awarded £3m after divorcing her wealthy American husband in London has had her claim struck out by a New York court in a ruling that is expected to be seized on by spouses trying to avoid expensive divorce settlements in this country.

The case was seen by US divorce lawyers as a warning to British wives who try to use the New York State courts to enforce claims against US citizens.

But the judgment has left Claire Dallen, 41, without a claim in America against her multimillionaire husband, Russell, 42.

The couple met at Nottingham University in 1987 and later went to live in New York where Mrs Dallen became a company lawyer and her husband was a merchant banker. In 1995, they returned to Britain and married at the Guards Chapel near Buckingham Palace. Afterwards, hundreds of guests joined the bride and groom at the Officers' Club in Horse Guards Parade.

The couple moved to Venezuela, where Mr Dallen runs an international newspaper based in Caracas. But by 2002 their marriage had broken down and Mrs Dallen returned to London and filed for divorce. In 2003, the High Court ordered Mr Dallen to pay her a lump sum of £1.25m and £2m in maintenance for her and their two children.Mr Dallen appealed against the High Court judgment, citing his absence, but the Court of Appeal described his case as "an abjectly hopeless application".

Mr Dallen who still lives in Venezuela has refused to accept the jurisdiction of the British court.

Mrs Dallen subsequently applied to the New York Family Court to enforce the British High Court's order but the magistrate, Nicholas Palos, ruled against Mrs Dallen, saying the High Court "did not have sufficient jurisdiction" over Mr Dallen. He said that Mr Dallen had not been served fairly with divorce papers so Mrs Dallen could not register her claim.

Mrs Dallen's solicitor, Siobhan Reader, of the London law firm Miles Preston, said she was "desperately disappointed" by the New York judgment.

Mr Dallen's lawyer, Eleanor B Alter, of the New York divorce lawyers Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Freidman, said the ruling showed what happened when people decided to go "forum shopping". She said: "You can't just pick a forum [such as] New York because you think the law is more helpful. You need to have some basis in law to register an order like this."

Ms Alter said others who followed in Mrs Dallen's footsteps would be equally disappointed if they could not prove residence in the state.

British lawyers believe the judgment sets a worrying precedent. Marilyn Stowe, an expert in international divorce law, said it was a salutary warning to all British spouses bringing divorce proceedings against foreign nationals to choose their forum carefully.

She added: "It shows you must get careful legal advice about the most appropriate court to bring proceedings, otherwise [a similar thing] might happen again. I question whether the judge applied the correct test. The English court clearly had jurisdiction to hear the case and he [Mr Dallen] had notice of the proceedings."

Sandra Davis, of the London law firm Mishcon De Reya, said the case showed the "Herculean and expensive task of trying to win enforcement proceedings in foreign jurisdictions. People should always be aware that the cost must not outweigh the commercial reality of the orders made".

Mr Dallen said: "No one should be dragged into court in a foreign country without a minimum level of contact or presence in that country or without his or her consent. I have not lived in Britain for 15 years. I am an American. I was living in Venezuela with my wife, who [is] British. I am not British and I am not subject to Her Majesty's laws."