Agbaje: Supreme Court overturns Court of Appeal decision

In a ruling that has been described as confirming London as the divorce capital of the world, the Supreme Court has today overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal in Agbaje v Akinnoye-Agbaje.

For those who have not been following this case, the parties were born in Nigeria, but both have British and Nigerian citizenship. They were married for 38 years. All five children of the family were born in England. The wife has been living in England continuously since 1999, when the marriage broke down.

The husband issued divorce proceedings in Nigeria. The assets are about £700,000, of which £530,000 represents two houses in London in the husband's name, and the balance represents properties in Nigeria. The Nigerian court awarded the wife a life interest in a property in Lagos (which, as found by the Nigerian court, had a capital value of about £86,000) and a lump sum which was the equivalent of about £21,000.

The wife made an application to the English court for financial provision after a marriage had been dissolved in a foreign country, under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. The application was granted, and Coleridge J made an order which was intended to enable her to house and maintain herself in London by providing her with 65% of the proceeds of sale (expected to be about £275,000) of the house in which she has been living, the equivalent of a 39% award to the wife.

The husband successfully appealed against this order, principally on the ground that the judge had given insufficient weight to the connections of the case with Nigeria. The Court of Appeal therefore dismissed Coleridge J's order, whilst recognising that this was harsh on the wife. The wife appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has disagreed with the Court of Appeal, finding that "the English connections were substantial, if not overwhelming", and that there was "a very large disparity between what the husband received and what the wife received such as to create real hardship and a serious injustice". Accordingly, the wife's appeal was allowed, and the order of Coleridge J restored.