Divorce appeal could trigger flood of Scottish maintenance claims in England

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Jul 07, 2017
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The former family home in Scotland of Charles Alastair Hyde Villiers, who is contesting his former wife’s attempt to seek a maintenance award in England

An aristocrat related to the Duchess of Cornwall is trying to use Scottish divorce law to challenge maintenance payments awarded to his wife in the English courts.

In the latest example of divorce “forum-shopping”, Charles Alastair Hyde Villiers, 54, a descendant of Mary Tudor, says that his wife is “trying it on” in the English courts as a cross-border divorce tourist.

Emma Mary Jane Villiers, 58, has been granted maintenance payments that are far more generous than she would get in Scotland — where inherited wealth is not taken into account in calculating a spouse’s wealth. Lawyers warn that if she wins, England will become “the maintenance capital of the United Kingdom” and face an invasion of divorcees from parts of the country.

Mrs Villiers married Mr Villiers — a racehorse owner, publishing baron and scion of one of England’s oldest families — in 1994 and they settled down to married life in an 18th century country manor in Scotland. Their family fortune is about £5 million.

After 17 years, in 2012, they separated and Mrs Villiers and the couple’s daughter, now 22, moved south to Notting Hill, West London, the Court of Appeal heard in London. Her husband filed for divorce in Scotland in 2014, but three months later Mrs Villers applied to the English courts for financial maintenance.

In March last year, Mrs Justice Parker ruled that the English High Court had power to help her because she was now “habitually resident” in England and ordered Mr Villiers to pay her £5,500 a month, to cover interim maintenance, pending finalisation of the divorce. Her husband is now challenging that ruling, insisting that an English judge had no right to intervene in a Scottish divorce.

His barrister, Michael Horton, of Coram Chambers, warned Lady Justice Black that if Mr Villiers’ appeal fails, it could lead to a flood of Scottish divorcees crossing the border in a bid to get a better deal. “To allow the decision to stand might well make London, if not already the divorce capital of the world, then at least the maintenance capital of the United Kingdom,” Horton said.

Lady Justice Black granted him permission to appeal on several of his grounds.

Mr Villiers’ full appeal will be heard on a date to be fixed.

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