The estranged wife of an expatriate property tycoon has failed in her bid to secure part of his fortune, after he successfully argued that his loathing of the British climate earned him immunity from the UK divorce courts.
By Jasper Copping
2:24PM BST 04 Jul 2013
Maria Saward had launched a case through the English legal system for a share of her husband Paul’s property portfolio. But Mr Saward, a keen yachtsman, managed to convince a judge that his dislike of the weather on these shores meant he no longer thought of himself as a UK resident.
The couple met in Majorca, married in Gibraltar, in 2009, and lived near Alicante, on Spain’s Costa Blanca, until Mrs Saward left her husband in June 2011, following a row, with her husband vowing “not to pay her a penny”.
Mrs Saward, 63, turned to the English courts for a divorce, because of their international reputation for securing favourable settlements for the ex-wives of wealthy men.
She managed to secure a decree nisi in November 2011 and proceeded to seek a slice of her 66-year-old husband’s property fortune, on the basis that, whilst he was currently living in Spain, his spiritual home was in Hampshire, where he was from.
Mrs Saward cited evidence that her husband had been disparaging about the country in which he had settled, declaring in emails to friends that he regarded Spain as a “—-hole” and had declared, “the Spanish are pure —-.”
She also stressed that bulk of his property portfolio was in Southampton and the surrounding area, where he has six properties, that most of his family were located in the area, and that his yacht was moored there most of the time.
Indeed, it emerged that when his wife began divorce proceedings, Mr Saward had just bought a yacht in Scotland which he had sailed to Southampton and, in June 2011, was living and sleeping on the boat in Southampton harbour.
However, Judge Lesley Newton, sitting in the High Court Family Division in October last year, overturned the decree nisi after ruling that Mr Saward’s permanent residence was in Spain and that the English courts had no jurisdiction over the couple’s divorce.
The judge observed: “Although the husband may well have expressed a dislike of Spain in forceful terms on many occasions, and whilst he may have contemplated a return to the UK, he had made no concrete plans to do so.”
Finding that Mr Saward’s “permanent and habitual fixed centre of interests” was Spain, the judge said that the key piece of evidence was a letter he wrote whilst staying on his yacht in Southampton, in which he stated: “I have no plans of ever moving back here, I could not put up with the weather … only two days left and I will be home.”
“In June 2011 he clearly saw himself as visiting England and his home being in Spain,” Judge Newton concluded.
Mrs Saward asked the Appeal Court to reverse that ruling, but in a ruling on Thursday, Lady Justice Black upheld the High Court’s findings.
She said Judge Newton had “carefully compared all the factors before and against residence in this country” before ruling that Mr Saward’s permanent home and main sphere of interest was in Spain.
The appeal judge concluded: “The most that might be said is that the judge viewed the facts in some way from the wrong end of the telescope, looking at residency rather than interests. However there is no prospect of convincing this court that the judge was wrong.”
Mrs Saward, outside court, said: “I’m very upset. This marriage ruined my life completely.
“As far as I know the court’s decision means I’m now still married. I don’t know whether my husband has undertaken divorce proceedings in Spain or not.”
She added: “In the region where we live in Spain, when a couple split up any property held in joint names is split equally whether they are married or not. But we had nothing in joint names, it was all in his name, even though we were husband and wife.”
She said she had been a successful businesswoman, running her own company, before meeting her husband, but added: “At this moment I have no income; all my savings were invested in the new house we bought in Spain. Now I have nothing.”