A U.K. appeals court ruled for the first time that the fairness of a divorce ruling made in another European country can be challenged in Britain, in a case filed by an unemployed Italian waiter seeking his wealthy ex-wife’s London home.
Francesco Traversa can sue his former spouse for ownership of her U.K. residence and a cash payment, even though he was ordered by an Italian court to vacate the home in 2008 as part of their divorce, the Court of Appeal in London said Feb. 14, in a ruling which described his ex-wife, Carla Freddi, as “affluent.”
“He’s very pleased that he’s been given permission to bring the case forward, but of course he’s got a long way to go,” Traversa’s lawyer, Frank Feehan, said in a phone interview. He said his client, 53, who is originally from southern Italy, has lived in England since the late 1980s.
The Valentine’s Day ruling follows a landmark U.K. Supreme Court decision in October that gave greater weight to pre-nuptial agreements in divorce settlements. Last month, a British millionaire was separately ordered to increase a payout to his ex-wife to 8 million pounds ($12.9 million), from 5 million pounds, in a case where a judge said divorces involving wealthy couples are having an “unfortunate” effect on U.K. family law.
Freddi’s lawyer, Peter Callaghan, didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
U.K. lawsuits over foreign divorces can be filed when one spouse wins an allegedly unfair separation abroad against an ex with a “significant” connection to Britain. Freddi, whose family is from northern Italy, separated from Traversa in 2003 and got the divorce five years later from a court in Brescia, Italy, according to the ruling.
Before the decision, permission to file such cases mainly stemmed from divorces in non-European countries, particularly those that provide less protection for women, said Suzanne Todd, a family-law lawyer with Withers LLP, who isn’t involved in the case.
Traversa and Freddi, who have two children together, wed in 1987 after agreeing to keep their assets separate if they divorced, according to the ruling. Freddi’s parents sought to “protect her fortune, present and future,” from Traversa, who came from a “modest” background, the ruling said.
Traversa didn’t participate in the Italian divorce case and hasn’t paid child support, according to the ruling. Freddi is seeking 67,000 euros ($90,000) in support payments.
“We’ll have to wait and see if the English court looks at the property regime as unfair,” Todd said. “It would seem pretty unfair for someone who decides to not participate in the proceedings in Italy to get another bite at the cherry.”