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Court of Appeal permits Russian wife to bring billion dollar High Court case

The Court of Appeal has overturned the decision to set aside permission that Natalia Potanina had been granted to make an application against her former husband Vladimir Potanin for financial relief under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984.

In Potanina v Potanin [2021] EWCA Civ 702, the court heard that the couple met as teenagers and married in Russia in 1983 where they lived throughout their married life. They have three adult children. In the early days of their marriage the couple were not well off, but the opportunities to create wealth in Russia during the 1990s were such that the husband accumulated vast wealth, estimated from published sources to amount to $20 billion.

The family had a lifestyle to match their wealth. Ultimately the marriage foundered. The husband's case was that the separation came in 2007 although, he says, they did not go through any formal legal separation at that time in order to protect their youngest child from the distress of his parents' divorce until he was a little older. The husband says that the fact that they owned a number of properties allowed this fiction to be maintained and they continued to take family holidays together and to celebrate certain festivals as a family.

The wife's case was (and is) that the separation did not come until November 2013 by which time, unbeknown to her, the husband had formed another relationship and had another child. The husband's announcement that the marriage was over was, on her account, a devastating 'bolt out of the blue'.

The Russian courts found the year of separation to be 2007. The pronouncement of divorce in Russia on 25 February 2014 led to what the judge described as a 'blizzard of litigation'. The wife's application for permission to apply for financial relief pursuant to Part III Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 was granted an ex parte hearing in January 2019. Leave was set aside, on the husband's application, in November 2019 on the grounds that the couple had little connection with this connection. It had been suggested that the decision would bring an end to 'divorce tourism'.

The Court of Appeal allowed the wife's appeal against that decision on 13 May 2021 and granted her permission to bring the case in the High Court. If the case proceeds, it would be one of the biggest divorce award cases to be heard in the English courts.

For the judgment, click here.

16/5/21