Aristocrat in Anglo-Scottish ‘divorce tourism’ fight with estranged wife

The outcome of a Scotland versus England Supreme Court battle between an aristocrat and his estranged wife could have implications for divorcing couples, lawyers say.

Charles Villiers and Emma Villiers, who lived near Dumbarton and separated 18 years after marrying, are divorcing in Scotland.

But they disagree over whether a fight over money should be heard in an English or Scottish court.

They have been embroiled in litigation for more than years.

Mr Villiers, 56, says because divorce proceedings are taking place in Scotland any fight over money should also take place in Scotland.

His estranged wife, who now lives in England, disagrees.

Five Supreme Court justices are analysing the latest round of the dispute at a hearing in the Supreme Court in London.

Legal experts say Supreme Court justices are being asked to grapple with issues relating to “forum shopping” and “divorce tourism” and say the case could have implications.

Mr Villiers asked Supreme Court justices to consider the case after judges at the High Court and Court of Appeal in London ruled against him.

A judge based in the Family Division of the High Court began considering the dispute in 2015.

Mrs Justice Parker ruled that any fight over money should take place in England.

In 2018, three Court of Appeal judges dismissed an appeal by Mr Villiers.

Appeal judges said divorce proceedings in Scotland and a money fight in England were not “related actions”.

Supreme Court justices are hearing arguments from lawyers representing Mr and Mrs Villiers and the Ministry of Justice.

The hearing began on Monday and is due to end on Tuesday.

Justices are not expected to deliver a ruling until next year.

Lawyer Russell Bywater, who represents Mr Villiers and is based at law firm Dawson Cornwell, says the case pits the English and Scottish jurisdictions’ “different approaches to spousal maintenance” against each other.

“In Scotland the rule of thumb is that a former spouse receives alimony for three years post-divorce, whereas in England it could be until one of the former spouses dies,” he said, outside court.

“The Supreme Court is being asked to bring clarity to what is otherwise an anomaly between intra-UK jurisdictions.”

Specialist lawyers watching the case say justices are dealing with an important issue and their ruling could have implications.

“The Supreme Court is being asked to address the issue of forum shopping,” said Neil Russell, who is based at law firm Seddons.

“This can be of crucial concern in particular in divorce cases, because in England and Wales there is potential for a life-time maintenance award to be granted, whilst in Scotland the maximum award is for three years only.”

John Darnton, who is based at BDB Pitmans, added: “It will be very interesting to see what the Supreme Court has to say on this important issue.

“Divorce tourism is commonplace amongst wealthy international couples.”

Simon Blain, who is based at Forsters, went on: “Clear rules are needed to establish which court should have jurisdiction in such cases.”

Mr and Mrs Villiers are listed on the website

The website provides a “genealogical survey” of the peerage in Britain.

Lawyers representing Mr Villiers say he is a relative of the Duchess of Cornwall.