A wealthy journalist has won a High Court fight with his estranged wife over the length of their marriage.
Angela Jilina, 49, and Walid Abu-Zalaf, 64, who have links to former Prime Minister Sir Tony Blair and his wife Cherie, had asked Judge Mostyn to make decisions regarding the breakdown of their marriage.
Ms Jilina, who is from Russia, said the marriage broke up in 2020, Mr Abu-Zalaf, editor of the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, said it broke up in 2013.
Lawyers had told Judge Mostyn his decision would affect the amount Ms Jilina walked away with under a prenup agreement – and said hundreds of thousands of pounds were at stake.
The judge had considered the arguments at a recent hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London and ruled in favor of Mr Abu-Zalaf on Monday.
He said the case was “just a matter of money”.
Judge Mostyn heard that Ms Jilina and Mr Abu-Zalaf had racked up solicitors’ bills of more than £400,000 between them – and suggested 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 attended the wedding of the Blairs’ daughter, Kathryn, three years ago.
The judge also heard that Mr Blair and Ivanka Trump, daughter of former US President Donald Trump, had previously been among the dinner guests at their London home.
Judge Mostyn learned how Ms Jilina and Mr Abu-Zalaf got married in 2012.
A family court judge had issued a nisi decree in 2013, a decree that signals the end of a marriage, after a request by Ms Jilina.
But she was told the nisi decree was never made absolute, a decision that legally ends a marriage.
Ms Jilina says there was reconciliation in 2014 and the marriage finally broke up in 2020.
She says the 2013 nisi decree is “now obsolete and obsolete”, should be overturned and wants to file a new divorce petition.
Mr Abu-Zalaf told the judge ‘we never reconciled’ and said they were only ‘technically married’.
He wants the nisi decree of 2013 to become absolute.
It’s all about the money, and only the money
“The position of the wife is superficially curious and it is very unlikely that the facts of this case will be repeated in the future,” Judge Mostyn said in a written decision.
“One could ask: why does it matter that she is divorced under the decree of November 15, 2013, or under a divorce order that has not yet been issued?
“The answer is that the prenuptial agreement provides for increasing levels of provision to be made to the wife according to the length of the marriage (which is to be measured in full years from the date of the ceremony to the date of the separation).”
Judge Mostyn added: “If the decree is set aside and this marriage is deemed to have lasted eight years, the level of provision is increased quite substantially both in respect of free capital, trust capital and periodic payments to the spouse.”
He continued: ‘I calculate that the agreement would give the wife an additional £1.7m housing capital (to be held in trust for her benefit during her lifetime as long as she remains unmarried) in addition to the 2 million pounds of this trust housing capital already provided; a lump sum of £250,000; and additional spousal support of around £13,500 a year, on top of existing child support, with indexation, at £123,000 a year.
“So that’s the reason for the wife’s request.
“It is not a question of proclaiming to the world the truth of the facts as she now says they are. It is not a question of correcting a false conclusion as to its status. This is not about correcting a public injustice.
“It’s a question of money, and only money.”
Judge Mostyn said the evidence fell “far short of showing” that the conclusions 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 very flawed marriage which was rightly put out of its misery by the making of the nisi decree,” he said.
“For reasons that have not been explained, for 12 months after the decree was issued, but before the ‘reconciliation’, the wife did not request that the nisi decree issued in her favor be made absolute.
“This delay is very confusing, 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 called marital reconciliation. This relationship lasted until March 2020, when it ended.
“However, I am fully satisfied that at any time after the nisi decree, their marriage was and remained irretrievably broken.
“I conclude by pointing out that if there had been a genuine marital reconciliation between the parties in November 2014 and after, a request could have been made by the woman at any time thereafter…for an annulment of the decree nisi on the grounds that The parties have reconciled and have both consented to the termination.
“The fact that the wife did not make such a request speaks volumes.
“For these reasons, the wife’s claims are denied and the husband’s claim is granted.”
Attorney Sara Hannell, who is based at the law firm Alexiou Fisher Philipps and represented Mr Abu-Zalaf, said in a statement following the ruling: “Mr Abu-Zalaf is pleased that the judge supported his request for an absolute decree and rejected Ms. Jilina’s attempt. obtain substantial additional sums of money from him, in addition to the generous financial settlement provided for her in their prenuptial agreement.
“Mr. Abu-Zalaf welcomes the court’s clear ruling that the marriage did indeed end in 2013 when Ms. Jilina applied for and was granted a nisi decree and that their subsequent relationship did not constitute a reconciliation of marriage.”
She added, “Mr. Abu-Zalaf’s wish now is to work amicably with Ms. Jilina…and put this private matter behind them and move on.”