Contemplating a divorce is scary, and we’ve all heard too many tales of nasty divorces that drag on forever.
It does happen, but luckily, it’s less common than you may think. In most people’s lives, divorce is painful, stressful, sometimes costly, but usually wraps up in a reasonable period of time with a settlement that doesn’t destroy either party.
Some of that is just the nature of the beast, but the equitable distribution laws in New York are especially geared to seeing that both parties are as financially healthy as possible at the end of a marriage.
In that sense, a balanced outcome arrived at within months or a year of filing is by design.
But if you’re a person with a huge fortune whose long marriage is ending, you may find yourself in an entirely different scenario, with a divorce that drags on for years, intruding on every element of your life.
For Russian fertilizer tycoon Dmitry Rybolovlev and his now ex-wife Elena, the battle raged on two continents for seven years and included criminal charges and an investigation into an art fraud ring.
Dmitry’s fortune was split in half until an appeals court reduced the award, and the two ultimately settled.
Among their assets was an $88 million Manhattan penthouse purchased by their 21-year-old daughter, a $168 million Greek island that was once owned by Aristotle Onassis, and a French soccer team.
The matter began in 2008 in a Swiss court, and according to both spouses, money and assets were promptly hidden away to get beyond the reach of any divorce settlement.
In just one of many surprising twists that followed, Elena was arrested exiting a plane in Cyprus in February of 2014 and detained for allegedly removing a ring worth $25 million from assets set aside in a trust for the couple’s daughters.
That might look like a lot of money to most people, but trusts in the daughter’s name have been buying up property for years, like a $95 million property in Florida purchased from Donald Trump, a $20 million property in Hawaii purchased from actor Will Smith, and an $88 million penthouse in New York City.
This wasn’t the couple’s first encounter with the law, either.
In 1996, Dmitry was arrested in Russia on suspicion that he had ordered the murder of a trader in his company.
He spent the next 11 months there, under enormous pressure to sell his shares in his Uralkali potash company, which manufactured fertilizer. Potash prices were extremely high at the time, and the company was seen in and outside of Russia as an excellent investment.
In 1997, authorities found the true perpetrators of the crime and Dmitry was fully acquitted of all charges by Russia’s supreme court.
Fast forward just over a decade and Dmitry and Elena were residing in Geneva, Switzerland, when Elena filed for divorce in Swiss courts.
She cited a long history of infidelity, including yacht parties where Dmitry shared young women with friends and other Russian oligarchs. Dmitry found out about the filing at a New Year’s Eve party in 2008, when his bankers notified him that his assets had been frozen.
According to Elena, Dmitry immediately began transferring property into overseas trusts, contrary to Swiss law.
By May of 2014, she had convinced a Swiss court of Dmitry’s personal and financial failings, and headlines around the world announced that Dmitry had been ordered to pay Elena the dizzying sum of $4.8 billion, or exactly half of the mogul’s fortune.
This is consistent with Russian divorce law, which operates under a presumption of a 50/50 division of property and income accumulated during the marriage.
It is not, however, consistent with Swiss law (or New York law, for that matter), and Dmitry appealed the ruling immediately.
He was able to negotiate a deal with his wife whereby she would back down from a lawsuit in Manhattan over the couple’s $88 million, 10-bedroom penthouse at 15 Central Park West if he would agree not to sell it, either as his own asset or as an asset of one of the many trusts being scrutinized by the Swiss court.
Dmitry’s appeal took a year to work through the Swiss system, but he ultimately prevailed.
The $4.8 billion award was reduced by the court to $600 million, and the ruling affirmed that the trust structures Dmitry had relied on over the years were valid and predated the divorce itself.
And while the matter could have ended there, the parties continued negotiating a settlement, finally releasing a statement four months later – in English, French, and Russian – that said they had reached an “amicable divorce settlement,” though the financial details remain private.
What they did negotiate, and what Dmitry likely paid handsomely for, was an end to the various legal proceedings related to the divorce in jurisdictions around the globe.
By then, Dmitry had other things to worry about, like his involvement as a victim of a scandal that shook the art world. Dmitry is currently involved in a billion-dollar action against art dealer Yves Bouvier, who allegedly forged documentation to bilk wealthy art buyers like himself out of millions.
That’s what an ugly divorce looks like, and it might be helpful to maintain some perspective if you’re thinking about going down that road yourself.
For most of us, as personal and heated and hurtful as it may be, divorce is a relatively straightforward process of negotiating terms and agreeing to the best settlement you and your lawyer can get. The whole thing may take just a few months, and never even require you to step into a courtroom.
Don’t panic when you’re considering a divorce in Brooklyn, or have been served with papers from your spouse.
At Zelenitz, Shapiro & D’Agostino, we can help you get the best terms possible, in the shortest amount of time.
Contact our experienced Brooklyn matrimonial law team today at 718-725-9601 and talk to a Brooklyn divorce lawyer for free.