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'Uncertified' pre-nup made in New York ruled irrelevant to London divorce

Monday, 8 April, 2019

The England and Wales Family Court has decided to ignore a 2005 pre-nuptial agreement made in New York between the Avon cosmetics heiress Morgan McConnell and her husband Anil Ipekci.

The two married in November 2005, after a two-year relationship. Since Mrs McConnell was a beneficiary of US trusts worth at least USD65 million and Mr Ipekci was a hotel concierge and former bankruptee, she asked her lawyer to draft a pre-nuptial agreement. This stated that Ipekci would not be entitled to claim any alimony or any other money from her, and that all he would get on divorce was half of the increase in the value of various properties held in her name. The agreement stated that both it, and any divorce proceedings between the parties, were to be governed solely by the law and courts of New York State.

The agreement was presented to Mr Ipekci for signature three weeks before the marriage. Although Mrs McConnell provided him with a lawyer to give him independent advice, this lawyer had acted for her in an earlier divorce. He signed.

When they divorced a decade later, the matrimonial home was in Barnes, in west London, so Ipekci was able to claim a financial remedy under English law. The judge, Mostyn J, decided that the pre-nup was unfair to Ipekci, not meeting any of his needs. Nor had Ipekci been properly informed about the law, and the lawyer who advised him might have been compromised by his links to Morgan McDonnell.

Moreover, the clause about the agreement being governed by New York law, in effect, wiped it out. To have effect under New York law, the agreement should have been accompanied by an authenticated certificate that its attestation conformed with local law. It was not, and the testimony of a joint expert stated that this defect left the agreement with 'minimal weight, if any' in New York. Mostyn considered it would be unjust to attribute any weight to the pre-nup when, under the law that the parties elected, it would be afforded no weight.

He appears to have ruled out division under the equal sharing principle because all of the assets either are (or had) their origin in non-matrimonial property. Accordingly, he decided Ipekci's English financial remedy claim solely by reference to the principle of needs. He awarded the husband a lump sum of GBP1.33 million, of which GBP375,000 was subject to a charge-back (Ipekci v McConnell 2019 EWFC 19).

Sources