Court condemns Russians' bitter divorce

A young Russian couple's "bitter and unruly" divorce battle was criticised in the Court of Appeal today over whether it was a good use of judges' time.

Ilya Golubovich, son of multi-millionaires, wanted his divorce pronounced in Moscow whereas his former wife, Elena, wanted a London decree.

Both used delaying tactics at the courts in the two countries, racking up legal costs of up to £2.25 million.

Mr Golubovich - whose first Russian decree was found to be a forgery and who is alleged to have tried to have his wife deported from their London home - eventually won the day.

His second divorce pronouncement in Moscow was recognised by the appeal judges, but Lord Justice Thorpe said it made no difference to whatever financial award would be made to the wife by a UK court.

He added: "There are only 17 judges of the family division (of the High Court) whose primary responsibility is to do justice domestically.

"There they operate under great pressure of work. I question whether there should not be a more stringent allocation of judicial time to cases such as this where the parties have slender connection with our jurisdiction and where the extent of their financial resources permits disproportionate demands on our family justice system."

Giving the background to the case, Lord Justice Thorpe said the husband was 24 and the wife 26 and they have a daughter, Maya, born a year after they married in 2007.

The marriage broke down last year and Elena filed the first divorce petition in London.

"The wife's preference for a London divorce, although not articulated, is obvious," said the judge.

"Equally obvious is the husband's unarticulated preference for a Moscow divorce."

He added: "Each thoroughly understood that whichever jurisdiction dissolved the marriage would then decide ancillary relief claims according to its internal law and practice."

Neither tried to find out which jurisdiction would be more convenient but instead "embarked upon a crude race".

Both tried to accelerate their claims in their preferred jurisdiction while trying to hold up their partner's court proceedings.

"In these sagas it is commonly seen that one sharp manoeuvre provokes an even worse response," he said.

"The husband and/or his lawyer invented a hearing of the 21 July in the Moscow court and forged a purported decree of divorce."

But while the English courts were trying to find out whether the decree was valid, Mr Golubovich returned to Russia to obtain a legal divorce despite giving assurances to a Family Division judge that he would not.

Mr Justice Singer ruled in the High Court that the first decree was a forgery and the second was invalid because it was obtained contrary to orders not to pursue it and recognition would be against public policy.

Lord Justice Thorpe and two other judges allowed Mr Golubovich's appeal, saying: "To refuse recognition of the Moscow decree would disregard our obligation to respect the function of that court."

At the hearing in May, the judges were told that Mr Golubovich had been ordered by a High Court judge to pay his wife £300,000 a year maintenance until her final divorce settlement was reached.

Deborah Bangay QC, who represented Elena, had told the appeal court that the husband had "embarked on a determined campaign" to delay the wife's divorce and financial settlement.

"His avowed intention, made crystal clear in his evidence to Mr Justice Singer, was to ensure that the wife, whom he regards as an illegal immigrant, along with their child, Maya, aged two, were booted out of this country back to Russia, a country the wife left in 1995.

"The wife would be left penniless in Russia while he continued to enjoy his jet-set millionaire's lifestyle."

When she married, Elena was required to become dependent on her husband's visa.

Ms Bangay said that when the wife issued divorce proceedings, the husband disavowed her visa status and she was served with a notice to leave the UK.

The couple met in Italy while Elena was a fashion student living and studying in London since 2001 and Mr Golubovich had just left Stanford University in California.

Ms Bangay said Mr Golubovich's mother, Olga, bought two flats for the couple in Queen's Gate Place, south west London, for a total of nearly £4 million.

The couple lived in one flat while their child and nanny lived in the other.

"It is common ground that the parties enjoyed an exceptionally high standard of living during their short marriage."

Mr Golubovich is now claiming that the flats belong to his mother, said Ms Bangay.

She said the mother owned the Russian equivalent of Tesco and the father was the financial director of Russian oil company Yukos.

"They are multi-millionaires if not billionaires," said Ms Bangay.

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