A Supreme Court hearing into a divorce that spans the Scotland-England border is believed to be the first time the government has been represented by its own QC in a divorce case since King George IV’s attempted separation from Queen Caroline in 1820.
The present-day hearing involves Charles Villiers, a 56-year-old Scottish aristocrat, and his 60-year-old wife Emma Villiers.
They married in 1994 and lived together in Dunbartonshire throughout their relationship; however when they separated in 2012, Mrs Villiers moved to live with their 23-year-old daughter in Notting Hill.
Mrs Villiers was the first to file for divorce, doing so in England in July 2013. Mr Villiers contested the jurisdiction of this and filed his own writ of divorce in Scotland in October 2014.
Mrs Villiers’ divorce petition was dismissed by consent in January 2015 and around that same time, she applied to the English courts for financial maintenance, where awards are often much more substantial.
For example in Scotland, financial maintenance is limited to three years and inherited wealth does not form part of divorce settlements.
Mr Villiers says this has left him “not allowed to get divorced” and has required him to hire lawyers in both Scotland and England to represent him in the courts.
In the meantime he was ordered to pay £3,000 per month in legal funding and £2,500 per month in interim maintenance to his wife, which has already been upheld at the Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court hearing is to determine whether the English courts have correctly applied EU laws by intervening in the financial maintenance aspect of the case, or whether Mr Villiers can ensure that the divorce is heard only in Scotland.
Meanwhile the case has also highlighted concerns surrounding the “first in time” rule, in which a case is heard in the first EU jurisdiction in which a spouse petitions.
This has been criticised as encouraging separating couples to race to court, rather than attempting more amicable methods of resolving their dispute.
Overall, the case is an example of the complexities that can arise when divorce goes straight to court – something that can often be avoided by separating much more amicably with the help of an experienced family mediator from the outset.