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Co-Head of London
Specialism: Lawyers Family and Matrimonial
Location: London, England
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Average client size: Over £25 million
Fixed fee offering: No
Number of offices globally: 1-5
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Manoeuvring through undisclosed wealth in the millions, multiple jurisdictions, and overseas religious proceedings, Catherine saw off last year by securing one of the biggest divorce awards in English legal history and the largest ever lump sum award against a spouse after a foreign divorce.
Secured the largest Part III financial relief in in English legal history | Al-Baker v Al-Baker divorce case
Catherine led the Al-Baker v Al-Baker case, representing the wife, Sareh Al-Baker. She helped secure the largest Part III financial relief in English legal history.
Mrs Al-Baker was born in occupied Japan and married Mr Al-Baker, an Iraqi national with whom she has three adult children, in 1969. Following the marriage, the family lived in Kuwait for nearly two decades before moving to London in 1987, where they remained until 1994. The family then moved to Portugal for the husband’s work, but were granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
Mrs Al-Baker instructed Vardags and filed for divorce in England in January 2015. Mr Al-Baker claimed that the wife is not domiciled in England and Wales. He then issued his own divorce petition in Portugal, which was stayed by the Portuguese court, pending the English court’s decision as to jurisdiction. An interim hearing was listed before Bodey J the following April, but the matter was adjourned to 30 July, when Mrs Al-Baker’s application for interim financial provision was also to be heard.
Before this took place, however, Mr Al-Baker’s solicitors served Mrs Al-Baker on 8 July 2015 with confirmation that Mr Al-Baker had obtained a talaq (an Islamic divorce) from the Sharia Court in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, back in March 2015.
Vardags secured permission from Mostyn J to proceed with financial proceedings under Part III of the Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1984 to enable Ms Al-Baker to seek to recover her fair share of their vast fortune.
Shortly after Vardags, on behalf of Mrs Al-Baker, obtained a worldwide freezing order in the sum of £125 million, having satisfied a judge that there was a real risk that Mr Al-Baker would dissipate his assets. Vardags successfully fought off applications to challenge these orders in Portugal.
In addition, the firm helped to obtain interim maintenance and legal fee contributions in the sum of just under £50,000 a month from the husband, plus numerous substantial cost orders.
In October 2015, Vardags secured an immediate committal order against the husband, requiring him to participate in the English proceedings and serve nine months in prison for non-disclosure.
In December 2015, Mr Cusworth QC set out directions in relation to financial disclosure, with which Mr Al-Baker failed to comply. As the financial remedy proceedings continued, Mr Al-Baker, having dis-instructed his English solicitors, repeatedly failed to comply with further directions and deadlines which were extended for him.
Due to the husband’s non-disclosure, the court was tasked with determining the parties’ wealth without Mr Al-Baker’s cooperation. On behalf of Mrs Al-Baker, Richard Todd QC and Nicholas Yates produced an asset schedule which totalled over £286 million, the majority of assets made up by Mr Al-Baker’s business interests, in respect of which he had provided little or no evidence.
Mr Cusworth QC reached a total figure for the parties’ net assets of £129,595,687. He accepted Mrs Al-Baker’s evidence in relation to the lifestyle the parties enjoyed during their marriage, considering it to be consistent with the findings he had made in relation to the scale of the parties’ assets. Mr Cusworth QC indicated that the wife had a sharing claim, and was entitled to one half of the available assets. In October 2016, Catherine’s client was accordingly awarded over £63 million.