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Where, If Anywhere, Do the Jet Set Call Home? High Court Gives Guidance

Very rich people often live jet set lifestyles of ceaseless travel, so pinning down the country in which they are domiciled can be a serious challenge. The High Court faced exactly that difficulty in a case concerning the acrimonious breakdown of a relationship between a wealthy divorcee and her boyfriend.

The divorcee, who was a woman of immense means, for a number of years enjoyed a lavish and peripatetic lifestyle with her boyfriend, whom she had met at the gym where he worked. After they separated, she launched proceedings against him in London, seeking declarations that various assets acquired during the relationship – including a luxurious Italian property and a fleet of supercars – were owned by her alone, having been bought entirely with her money.

She also sought restitution of various business investments and over $9 million in cash. Her claims were based on an assertion that none of the assets and money concerned had been gifted to him and that they had been transferred to him by reason of the undue influence he had brought to bear on her.

He denied her claims and launched parallel proceedings in his native New Zealand, where the law enables division of relationship property on the permanent separation of unmarried couples. Neither of them was a British citizen and, following the end of the relationship, he had moved back to New Zealand to live with his parents. He argued that he had never been domiciled in England and that the English courts thus had no jurisdiction to entertain the divorcee's claim.

In ruling on that issue, the Court found that he had made his home in England before the relationship ended. However, his residence and domicile in this country had ceased by the time the divorcee issued proceedings (the relevant date). His principal connection to England came to an end at the same time as his relationship and he had been excluded from his only residence in this country.

However, the Court also ruled on the evidence that he was not domiciled in New Zealand, or anywhere else, on the relevant date. On that basis, the divorcee was entitled to sue him in England in that this country was his last known place of domicile. She had also been entitled, with judicial permission, to serve him with the proceedings in New Zealand, by means of a WhatsApp message. England was in any event the appropriate forum for the trial of the divorcee's claim in that the relationship had, for the most part, been carried on in this country.

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A jet set lifestyle can present considerable problems in deciding family disputes, and the service of notices by social media is still relatively rare, but will no doubt increase over time.
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