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High Court refuses to acknowledge divorce obtained by deception

Our People - Claudette Terrode
5 December, 2023

British woman maintains marriage with prominent Indonesian businessman

GN Law’s Family Law Solicitor, Claudette Terrode was successful in this case in getting the High Court in the UK to refuse to recognise a divorce acquired in Indonesia that it found had been obtained by deception. As a result, Mrs Mahtani’s petition for divorce and financial remedies can now proceed in the UK.

The Case: Monisha Mahtani v Vivek Mahtani

In Monisha Mahtani v Vivek Mahtani, the decision concerned Mrs Mahtani’s application for an order under S.51(3) of the Family Law Act 1986, that the court refuse to recognise the divorce that was obtained by the husband in Indonesia, to allow her English divorce petition and financial remedies application to proceed.

Mrs Mahtani is a British citizen and the husband an Indonesian citizen.  Following the marriage in London in 2003, the couple lived in Indonesia.  Mr Mahtani is a prominent businessman and has wealth estimated at £35M.  Mr Mahtani owns several luxury properties, they had staff and the children attended private schools.  Mrs Mahtani enjoyed a lavish lifestyle where money was never an issue.

The end of the relationship

Mrs Mahtani left the marriage in May 2016 and returned to London.  She was in frequent communication with her husband, and he knew her address, email, and phone number. In December 2017 the husband obtained a divorce in Indonesia without the wife’s knowledge. As is clear from the Indonesian court’s decision, it was the husband’s case that the last known residence of his wife was in Jakarta and that they did not know her current whereabouts.

It is Mrs Mahtani’s case that her husband (and his witnesses) knew that her last known place of abode was not in Jakarta, but was in London, the exact address of which the husband knew.

The case for a dishonest divorce in Indonesia

The Indonesian divorce was pronounced by the District Court of South Jakarta on 14 November 2017. Mrs Mahtani says that she first found out about the divorce in May 2018 as a result of the husband making it known amongst family and friends in Indonesia that he was divorced. Her case is that the husband procured the Indonesian divorce by dishonestly representing that he and his witnesses did not know her whereabouts, whereas he knew that she was living in London and, indeed, knew her address, e-mail address and UK mobile number.

Mrs Mahtani emailed the Indonesian embassy in September 2020 to inform them that she had just found out about her Indonesian divorce, and to ask their advice. She was advised by the embassy to seek advice from a family lawyer in the UK. She also learned from the Indonesian embassy that the Immigration Office has confirmed that her name was on the immigration blacklist.  She was unable to afford a lawyer in London and felt that she could not succeed in the courts in Indonesia due to the husband’s prominent position.

GN Law instructed to help in the UK

Mrs Mahtani therefore issued a divorce petition in England in September 2021.  This was done independently and without legal advice.  She instructed GN Law and court proceedings were issued in December 2022.  The divorce and financial application were stayed pending determination of the issue of recognition of the Indonesian divorce.  Mrs Mahtani was however granted substantial maintenance pending suit and a Legal Services Payment Order (which the husband has not paid).  Mr Mahtani has refused to engage in the proceedings.

Mr Mahtani made an application to the court in Indonesia in June 2023 with regards to finances.  This was no doubt prompted by the proceedings in the High Court.  He obtained a Judgement which stated that the wife had no rights to any of his assets or property and that she could not claim anything of the joint property except for bed linen and personal clothing. Despite being served with the English proceedings and the orders made, Mr Mahtani still presented a false case to the court as to his knowledge of the whereabouts of the wife.  The Indonesian court declared that the wife’s whereabouts were still unknown.

The High Court Verdict

Deputy High Court Judge James Ewins KC stated that notice of hearings is a basic due process right of the applicant and if the respondent was indeed aware of the fact that the applicant was living in London at the time of the filing of his divorce application in Indonesia, he should have informed the Indonesian courts, which would have  been obliged to serve notice of the proceedings on the applicant, and including a notice of the hearing date and a copy of the divorce application through diplomatic channels.

The Judge concluded that Mr Mahtani had misled the Indonesian court in 2017.  He therefore refused recognition of the Indonesian divorce and declared that the marriage is subsisting under English law quoting the words of Mostyn J in Liaw v Lee {2016} 1 FLR 533 … “there is compelling argument that to decline to refuse recognition in this case would be grossly unfair and would in effect reward dishonesty and sharp practice.  It would send out a signal that conduct such as I have described is tolerable…”

Consequently, the stay was lifted on the divorce and financial remedies proceedings.

If you would like any legal advice on your divorce or to receive assistance in relation to your divorce proceedings, then please contact one of our specialist Divorce Lawyers or call on 020 8492 2290.

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