Divorce, separation and finances

We have a long established reputation for achieving outstanding results for our clients, particularly in complex cases and those with an international angle.

Our award winning team of family lawyers has acted in many of the landmark cases in the London and Hong Kong courts in recent times, and has been involved in the development of the law in both locations.

We acted for Melissa Miller in securing her entitlement to a fair share of assets in a short marriage case ultimately determined by the Supreme Court and which established a number of principles that have determined all other financial cases on divorce.

We also acted for the successful spouse in the three reported decisions where the court decided to award one spouse a greater share of the marital wealth on the basis of the special contribution they were deemed to have made during the marriage (Sorrell (2005), Charman (2007) and Cooper-Hohn (2014). Our team in Hong Kong has been involved in three of the most important cases to reach the Court of Final Appeal since 2010. We acted for the husband in a high net worth cross border divorce which involved significant assets in Hong Kong and mainland China (ML v YJ (2010) and resulted in the Hong Kong government reforming the law in respect of financial provision in Hong Kong when there was a foreign divorce decree.

In Kan Lai Kwan v Poon Lok To Otto, the law in relation to trusts was clarified, and SPH v SA clarified the law on competing jurisdictions. The case also confirmed that if the parties fully understood the implications of a prenuptial agreement, they would most likely be bound by it.

Establishing strategy early on

Clients tell us that one of the main reasons they were glad they chose us is because of the way we approach our first meeting with them. We find it is vital to establish early on the realistic objectives for your case and to set a clear strategy to achieve this. It is not uncommon for firms to win work by telling clients what they want to hear, but we see it as essential to be candid in advising you on what you will be able to achieve and to set out the options for reaching those goals – whether for example through negotiated agreement (either directly or through mediation or a collaborative law process), or through the courts or, alternatively, arbitration.

Trust related cases

Trusts are widely used by families as a way to protect their assets for future generations. Understandably, during a divorce there can be strong disagreement over how trusts and other wealth structures should be dealt with.

We have considerable experience in advising trustees, beneficiaries and other family members caught up in divorce proceedings.

We have the benefit of being able to consult with on of the largest top ranked wealth planning and contentious trust teams based globally across the US, Caribbean, Europe and Asia. With colleagues also in corporate, employment, property and reputation management teams we have the experience and the skill sets to protect your trust interests, family businesses and inherited wealth or alternatively, when required, to trace assets and probe wealth holding structures.

We work with trustees and beneficiaries in the preparation of pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements, on which we have enormous experience, and which form an integral part of wealth protection planning.

Withers has one of the largest trust law teams based globally in the US, Caribbean, Europe and Asia. This means we have the ability to ‘stress test’ and identify potential vulnerabilities in wealth structures, so that steps can be taken to protect against or minimize unfavorable outcomes resulting from attacks from divorcing spouses, fiscal authorities, creditors or disappointed heirs.

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15 May 2017 - Blog

Maintenance payments: can't pay or won't pay


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Recognition

20 years as a top ranked firm for family/matrimonial (1997-2017)

Top ranked firm for family/matrimonial

Top tier firm for family (2002-2016)

Winner of family/matrimonial law firm of the year

UK top family law firm

Market leader in family and divorce law - Hong Kong (2015-2018)

‘‘

The whole team is brilliant – I would never go anywhere else. I cannot recommend a legal team more highly. They were incredibly kind and compassionate to me on a human level, which spoke to me as strongly as their talent as lawyers.

CHAMBERS UK 2018
‘‘

I had a five-star impression of them and was very happy. During what was an incredibly painful, emotional time, I was absolutely aware that they made it as smooth and painless as that sort of process can be. That says a lot.

CHAMBERS UK 2018

Meet the team

How the team can help

Track record

Hong Kong team act in a landmark high value cross border divorce

A cross border team acted for an ultra high net worth client in an exceptionally complex divorce, involving company structures and multiple third parties, offshore trusts and multi million dollar assets in a number of jurisdictions. We obtained the highest ever award for interim maintenance in Hong Kong.

Disentangling complex structures to achieve a settlement

We acted for the wife in OS v DS. Her husband had failed to make proper disclosure of his financial resources, which we therefore had to trace through a complicated network of corporate structures, mainly in Africa. In order to unearth the husband's true financial position we assisted in establishing an innovative court procedure so that the judge could carry out a 'preliminary/oral discovery' hearing to determine the relevant facts in this case. Following that hearing we were able to settle the case resulting in a positive outcome for our client. Whilst this procedure was created for the particular circumstances of our case, it has since been used in many other cases and is now known as an 'OS v DS hearing'.

Highest child maintenance award secured in Hong Kong

We acted for the mother and child in Hong Kong under the Guardianship of Minors Ordinance, achieving for our client the highest award for such child maintenance to date.

Divorce case dealing with trust, share valuation and non-matrimonial asset issues

We delivered a comprehensive result for the wife in X v X [2016]. We successfully argued that her husband’s interest in a trust should be considered a resource of his and included in the marital assets available for division. The case also involved complex issues of assessing the contributions made by the husband and the wife during the marriage, the valuation of shares in a listed company, and the extent of non-matrimonial assets.

Divorce involves a forum dispute between Hong Kong and Australia

We successfully acted for the husband to defeat the wife's application for a stay on the basis that Australia was the more appropriate jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal considered the factors the court should bear in mind when dealing with such challenges. At the time, it was a landmark case and is regularly quoted to this day on the topic of forum non conveniens.<br />

Special contribution to a marriage's resources

We acted for advertising and marketing giant WPP's CEO, Sir Martin Sorrell, in his divorce case, which is one of the very few in which the judges accepted the argument that his 'exceptional contribution' to the marriage's finances was sufficient to justify an unequal division of the couple's assets. Sir Martin was awarded 60% of the assets, with no ongoing maintenance payments.

Court of Appeal rules in favour of a wife, who secured 70% of the matrimonial assets

Sharon Ser led the team to the Court of Appeal acting for a wife in respect of an application to set aside an order for leave to appeal. This case at first instance involved the wife's application for a greater share of the matrimonial assets on the basis of compensation. She was successful in achieving 70% of the total matrimonial assets with periodical payments for 10 years. The wife appealed and the husband then sought leave to cross appeal although he was 51 days out of time. The Court of Appeal refused the husband's application for leave to appeal.

Court of Appeal defence of credit crunch award

A property developer's business suffered huge losses when the financial crisis hit, and we acted for him in his divorce negotiations with his wife, heiress of a business empire. Our team helped the husband defend the allocation of an equal split of the couple's finances, plus an extra £5 million lump sum payment to the husband to cover half of his property losses.

Complex divorce involving financial assets aquired prior to the marriage

Sharon Ser acted for the wife in an extremely complex financial case where the husband sought to argue assets in the 14 year marriage were acquired prior to the marriage and should be classed as non-matrimonial assets and excluded from the sharing principle. The Hong Kong Court of Appeal ruled that the assets had been sufficiently intermingled with the family expenses and that they should not be discounted completely.

Complex high value divorce leads to a change in the law in Hong Kong

We acted for the husband in a high value divorce, which involved a conflict in jurisdiction between Hong Kong and the People's Republic of China. The matter reached The Court of Final Appeal and led to a change in Hong Kong law, introducing new legislation to allow a party who had a divorce in another jurisdiction to seek a financial remedy in Hong Kong where applicable. This is an important measure protecting those who would be unfairly prejudiced by an overseas divorce.

Four year battle for full disclosure

We represented Lisa Tchenguiz in a lengthy, complex, high profile divorce which resulted in a change in the law on disclosure and confidentiality of documents in divorce proceedings; and also produced additional decisions in relation to the joinder of trust beneficiaries to financial proceedings on divorce. The Court of Appeal ruled that unauthorized access to a former spouse's personal documents breached a duty of confidentiality. The judgment has been described by some as a cheat's charter and an obstacle to transparency.

Achieving settlement to end maintenance payments

As our client approached retirement, following a long and distinguished career as a barrister, he applied to terminate the maintenance payments he had been ordered to pay to his first wife for life. His former wife sought a lump sum payment of £560,000 in lieu of ongoing maintenance. The case went to the Court of Appeal, who established that the potential claims of a second wife cannot take priority over the first wife's claims and ordered a payment of £215,000 (less than half the amount she initially sought).

Use of European pre and postnuptial agreements clarified in the Hong Kong courts

A landmark divorce case in Hong Kong involved German pre and postnuptial agreements. The case confirmed that the principles set out in the English Supreme Court case of Radmacher, in respect of prenuptial agreements, would be an appropriate precedent for the Hong Kong courts, and that, if the parties fully understood the implications, they would most likely be bound to their agreements.

Appealing international relocation with children

Our client, who shared the care of his two children with his former wife, opposed her application to relocate to Canada permanently with them. We represented him in the Court of Appeal and successfully overturned the initial decision, so his former wife did not have permission to leave with the children. The decision marked an influential development in the court's approach to applications to relocate abroad with children. This followed C v C, an earlier decision in which Withers also acted, where we represented the father who successfully resisted the mother's application to permanently relocate with the children to the US.

Special contribution argument in record value case

We acted for Sir Chris Hohn in what was then the highest value divorce case. He had generated his wealth through huge success in investment management, and had also established a charitable foundation which achieved international recognition in its field. We successfully argued that the marital assets should not be equally divided, in part due to his 'special contribution' to their generation. Mrs Cooper-Hohn was awarded 36% of the total.

Confirming that the welfare of children is paramount

We acted for the mother in her application for permission to relocate to Russia with the two children. This decision re-iterated what the Court of Appeal had said in MK v CK, that the only principle to apply is the welfare principle, but in this case the Court decided that our client should be given permission to relocate.

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