Potanina v Potanin & the far reaching powers of the English court - Boodle Hatfield

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01 Nov 2023

Potanina v Potanin & the far reaching powers of the English court

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3 min read

The long-running case of Potanina v Potanin is being heard at the Supreme Court this week on the issue of whether a wife should be granted permission to apply for financial relief in England in circumstances in which a divorce has already taken place in Russia.  This case once again brings into focus the wide-ranging powers of the English court to intervene, even in cases in which the parties had a limited connection to England during the time of the marriage and orders for financial relief have already been made by overseas courts.

In this case the parties are Russian and had lived in Russia for the duration of their marriage. Following a “blizzard of litigation” between the parties in Russia over the course of many years, the wife was ultimately unsuccessful in her attempts to persuade the Russian courts that she should be awarded significantly more than the $76.1m previously paid to her by the husband. In the context of the husband’s estimated net worth of $20 billion the wife’s case was that the amount paid did not represent her 50% share of the assets accumulated during the course of the parties’ long marriage. 

The wife subsequently moved to England and purchased a property here. She then applied ex-parte (without providing notice to the husband) to the English family court for permission to apply under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. A Part III claim enables the family court in England and Wales to make financial orders following a divorce which has already taken place in another jurisdiction in circumstances where insufficient provision has been made overseas. 

When notified by the court that permission had been granted, the husband argued that the wife should not be able to proceed with the application on the basis that she had misled the court regarding the facts of the case and the issues and principles of Russian law. The Court of Appeal held that the wife should be able to proceed with her application, despite the fact that she had already received a financial award in Russia. In such cases, the court will only grant permission to apply if it considers that there is “a substantial ground for the making of an application for such an order”. The Court of Appeal confirmed that the test does not need to be high, but there must be a “solid” case to be tried. In the case in question the wife had succeeded in meeting that threshold.  

The husband appealed to the Supreme Court which is hearing the case this week. 

The outcome of this case is likely to be highly significant in the court’s developing approach to Part III cases. English family lawyers and hard done by spouses hoping for a second bite of the cherry through the English family courts await the decision from the Supreme Court justices with bated breath. See Harriet’s recent article in The Law Society Gazette here to read more. 

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