New York City Feels Impact of Certain Multi-Billion-Dollar Divorce Cases Across International Borders

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Property division is among the most challenging parts of the divorce process. Systems for distributing property acquired during a marriage, as well as property owned by a spouse prior to the marriage, differ from state to state and country to country. Several high-profile divorce cases involving extremely wealthy people who live overseas, but own property in New York City, demonstrate just how complicated property division can be.

Some U.S. states have a “community property” system, in which property acquired during a marriage is presumed to belong to a community estate. In a divorce case, the court must approve a division of the community estate and determine whether any property is the separate property of one spouse. New York has an “equitable division” system. Each spouse owns their own income and may manage their own assets. A court must approve an equitable division of property in order to grant a divorce, based on a wide range of factors such as each spouse’s income, the length of the marriage, the spouses’ ages and health needs, and any acts of waste or fraud by one spouse.

New York City has seen several divorces involving wealthy Russian businessmen expand into this state’s legal system. This usually involves claims for New York City real estate owned by a divorcing couple. Russia’s marital property laws resemble the community property laws found in some U.S. states:  a husband and wife own anything acquired during the marriage as common property. Anything owned by one spouse prior to the marriage, or received by one spouse as a gift or inheritance during the marriage, remains their separate property. Where these recent Russian cases seem to differ from most New York divorce cases is in the sheer amount of property to be divided.

A lawsuit filed in 2012 in a Manhattan court, Rybolovleva v. Rybolovlev, is linked to one of the largest property divisions in history. A Swiss court ordered the ex-husband, who made a fortune selling a Russian fertilizer company and now owns a Monaco-based soccer team and a Greek island, to pay more than $4.8 billion to his ex-wife. This amount was roughly equal to one-half of the fortune accumulated during the marriage. Among the assets comprising this fortune, and the subject of the New York litigation, is a Manhattan penthouse apartment worth about $88 million. An appellate court in Switzerland drastically reduced the property division amount in early June 2015, although the matter is far from resolved.

Another pending property division case that could affect New York City involves the owner of a Russian nickel-mining company and his ex-wife. She is claiming half of an estimated $14 billion fortune. When the couple divorced in February 2014, he reportedly offered her alimony of $250,000 per month and title to properties in New York City, London, and Moscow. She has rejected this offer and is going to court to fight for more.

People who enter into a marriage in New York with significant wealth, or with possessions they hold dear, should take a careful approach to managing their assets. Should they find themselves involved in a divorce proceeding under New York law, an experienced and knowledgeable family law attorney can help them understand their rights and responsibilities and protect their assets. Ingrid Gherman has handled divorces and other family law cases in New York City for the past 30 years. Contact us today online or at (212) 941-0767 to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

New York Lawsuit Claims Damages for Defendant’s Failure to Get a Divorce, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, June 16, 2015

After Husband’s Death, New York Court Substitutes His Estate in Post-Divorce Proceeding, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, June 9, 2015

Appellate Court Adjusts Trial Court’s Distribution of Business Interests in New York Divorce Case, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, February 27, 2015

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