Divorce tourism accused of clogging up UK family courts

By Lenore Rice

Yet another international couple are involved in a dispute to see if their divorce should be handled in the courts in UK, which is generally a favoured option for the spouse who has brought less wealth to the marriage.

The divorce involves one of Malaysia's richest men, Tan Sri Khoo Kay Peng, who is a chairman and major shareholder of retailer Laura Ashley. His wife is Pauline Chai, a former Miss Malaysia, and their divorce will involve the split of assets estimated at around £400million. Dr Khoo Kay Peng has been living in Malaysia since the 42 year marriage came to an end, and Ms Chai has been living in England.

The UK Courts give more weight to the contribution of the homemaker to a marriage, and as such Ms Chai would earn a much better divorce settlement if the case went before a family court in the UK. In Malaysia the divorce courts are considered to be less generous to the non-bread winning spouse. The couple have already spent £2.3million in legal fees at the preliminary stages, as they dispute which country the divorce case should be heard in.

At the same time, the family courts in the UK are finding themselves overwhelmed with case volumes, and struggling with cuts to legal aid, causing many to criticise the growth in divorce tourism which is adding complicated protracted cases to the UK system, that could have been held in another jurisdiction. Divorces involving large wealth are rarely clear cut and can run on for long periods. Even when such a divorce case comes to a close the decision is often appealed. In a previous hearing involving a Russian couple at the High Court, Lord Justice Thorpe suggested the need for "a more stringent allocation of judicial time" to cut down on the number of divorces that have "slender connection with our jurisdiction."

If you require legal advice from a divorce solicitor in Northern Ireland contact Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast or Bangor by calling 0800 840 1363.

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