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London is divorce capital of the world, thanks to big money awards for wives

Las Vegas may be the best place for marriage but London is known as the divorce capital of the world, boosted by a ruling this week on a Malaysian beauty queen’s bid for a big money split from her tycoon husband.

Thousands of wealthy Chinese, Russians, Americans and Europeans, many of whom work in the City of London financial district or own property in Britain, now end their marriages before an English judge.

A judge recently ruled that the divorce between businessman Khoo Kay Peng, reputedly worth at least £400 million (S$820 million) and former Malaysian beauty queen Pauline Chai, can be heard in London.

“England has become very attractive for wives, in particular because awards here are considerably higher than almost anywhere in the world,” said Sandra Davis, head of the family law department at Mishcon de Reya, who represented Diana, princess of Wales in her divorce from Prince Charles and US model Jerry Hall in her split from Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger.

'The short answer is money'

While no precise figures exist on how many divorces in London have an international element, lawyers say they are common.

So what is it about England which makes it such an attractive destination for divorce?

“The short answer is money,” said Elizabeth Hicks, a partner at law firm Irwin Mitchell.

Following a landmark case in 2000, English courts start from the assumption that marital assets should be split 50/50, favouring the less wealthy spouse.

This contrasts with many other countries and means awards in England are several times bigger than they would be elsewhere.

Pre-nups not legally binding, judges consider wider range of assets

Another factor is that pre-nuptial agreements, signed before marriage to protect the richer spouse’s assets, are not legally binding in England.

English judges also take into account a wider range of assets when calculating each spouse’s wealth, which also appeals to the less wealthy partner.

The case between Chai and Peng could set a new record for England’s biggest divorce payout due to the length of the couple’s marriage, which lasted over 40 years.

That is currently held by late Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who reportedly paid up to £220 million to his ex-wife Galina Besharova in 2011.

- AFP

Related report: M'sian ex-beauty queen wins fight to divorce in London

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