Millionaire wins court battle with ex-wife over the exact length of their marriage

A millionaire has won a High Court fight with his wife over how long they were married.

Angela Jilina, 49, and Walid Abu-Zalaf, 64, who have links to former prime minister Sir Tony Blair and his wife Cherie, had asked Mr Justice Mostyn to make decisions related to when their marriage broke down.

Ms Jilina, who comes from Russia, said the marriage broke down in 2020. Mr Abu-Zalaf, editor of Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, said it broke down in 2013.

Lawyers had told Mr Justice Mostyn that his ruling would affect how much Ms Jilina walks away with under a prenuptial agreement – and indicated that hundreds of thousands of pounds were at stake.

The judge had considered arguments at a recent hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London, and ruled in favour of Mr Abu-Zalaf on Monday.

He said the case was “only about money”.

Mr Justice Mostyn heard that Ms Jilina and Mr Abu-Zalaf had run up lawyers’ bills of more than £400,000 between them – and suggested that the case was unique.

Ms Jilina told the judge how she had been involved with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, and how she and Mr Abu-Zalaf had attended the wedding of the Blairs’ daughter Kathryn three years ago.

The judge also heard Mr Blair and Ivanka Trump, daughter of former US president Donald Trump, had once been among dinner guests at their London home.

Mr Justice Mostyn was told how Ms Jilina and Mr Abu-Zalaf had married in 2012.

A family court judge had granted a decree nisi in 2013; a decree which signals the end of a marriage, after an application by Ms Jilina.

But he was told the decree nisi had never been made absolute, a move which legally ends a marriage.

Ms Jilina said there was reconciliation in 2014 and the marriage finally broke down in 2020.

She said the 2013 decree nisi is “now antiquated and stale”, should be rescinded, and wanted to issue a fresh divorce petition.

Mr Abu-Zalaf told the judge “we never reconciled”, and said they were only “technically married”.

He wants the 2013 decree nisi to be made absolute.

“The wife’s position is superficially curious and the facts of this case are very unlikely to be repeated in the future,” said Mr Justice Mostyn in a written ruling.

“One might ask: why does it matter whether she is divorced pursuant to the 15 November 2013 decree, or pursuant to a divorce order yet to be made?

“The answer is that the prenuptial agreement provides for increasing levels of provision to be made to the wife depending on the length of the marriage (which is to be measured in full years from the date of the ceremony to the date of separation).”

Mr Justice Mostyn added: “If the decree is set aside and this marriage is treated as having lasted for eight years then the level of provision is increased quite substantially both in respect of free capital, capital in trust and spousal periodical payments.”

He went on: “I calculate that the agreement would give the wife an extra £1.7m housing capital (to be held on trust for her benefit during her lifetime while she remains single) on top of the £2m such housing capital in trust already provided; a lump sum of £250,000; and additional spousal maintenance of around £13,500 per annum, on top of the existing maintenance now standing, with indexation, at £123,000 per annum.

“This then is the reason for the wife’s application.

“It is not to proclaim to the world the true facts as she now says that they are. It is not about correcting a false finding as to her status. It is not about correcting a public injustice.

“It is about money, and only about money.”

Mr Justice Mostyn said evidence came “nowhere near to demonstrating” that findings made about the state of the marriage, when the decree nisi was granted in 2013, were wrong.

“The evidence shows that the parties had a highly defective marriage which was rightly put out of its misery by the making of decree nisi,” he said.

“For reasons that have not been explained, for 12 months after the pronouncement of the decree, but before the ‘reconciliation’, the wife did not apply for the decree nisi awarded in her favour to be made absolute.

“That delay is very puzzling, in November 2014 she and the husband resumed a toxic, damaging and unhealthy relationship which had none of the qualities of marriage and which cannot be described as a marital reconciliation.

“That relationship endured until March 2020 when it came to a final end.

“However, I am completely satisfied that at all times following the decree nisi their marriage was and remained irretrievably broken down.

“I conclude by pointing out that if there had been a genuine marital reconciliation between the parties in and after November 2014 then an application could have been made by the wife at any time thereafter … for a rescission of the decree nisi on the grounds that the parties were reconciled and both consented to the rescission.

“The fact that the wife made no such application speaks volumes.

“For these reasons, the wife’s applications are dismissed and the husband’s application is granted.”