A Bitter End: Looking Back at the World’s Most Expensive Divorce


When ordinary couples decide to part ways, they file for divorce, reach an agreement and walk away from the relationship to start separate lives. But when you’re worth $6.8 billion and the 242nd richest man in the world, the falling out of your marriage will become everyone’s business and walking away from it can cost you millions.

This was the case for Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian billionaire and oligarch who made his fortune in the potash industry. Before all the fame and fortune, Rybolovlev was studying to be a cardiologist in Perm, Russia where he met and married Elena Rybolovleva in 1987. After getting married, the couple had two daughters, Ekaterina born in 1989 and Anna born in 2001. The family spent most their time in Russia but Rybolovlev was forced to move them to Geneva, Switzerland after receiving several death threats.

The makings of the world’s most expensive divorce

On December 22, 2008, Elena filed for divorce after 21 years of marriage to Rybolovlev citing “serial infidelity” as her reason for ending their marriage. She also asked the Geneva State prosecutor to protect her assets against his husband. This was going to be the start of a much-publicized legal battle that will span six jurisdictions, last almost seven years and cost Rybolovlev a huge chunk of his fortune.

Dmitry and Elena’s marriage was not like any other couple. In fact, they had to deal with several challenges together including a time when Rybolovlev faced threats to his life due to his business Uralkali. He spent almost a year in jail in Russia after being accused of ordering the murder of one of his business partners. He was able to clear his name and commuted between Russia and Switzerland for his family.

The things that went wrong

In her divorce petition, Elena said that she got tired of her husband’s endless infidelities and cited lavish yacht parties that involved his husband spending time with younger women in her court documents. She also said that her husband started hiding assets from her including several properties that were bought under the trusts of their two daughters Ekaterina and Anna. The legal battle turned into a fight between the mother and her children where Elena’s relationship with her daughters turned sour.

The properties involved

Part of Elena’s accusations included properties being hidden by her husband through assets being transferred to overseas trusts under Ekaterina and Anna. The properties that were purchased starting in 2008 included Donald Trump’s Maison de l’Amitie, a sprawling estate in Palm Beach priced at $95 million, a $20 million house in Hawaii previously owned by Will Smith, two houses in the alpine resort of Gstaad in Switzerland worth $138 million, two Greek islands worth $150 million and an $88 million 10-bedroom apartment in 15 Central Park West in New York priced at $88 million. That apartment set the record for the most expensive of its kind ever sold in New York City.

The arrest in Cyprus

To make this already heated divorce proceedings worse, Elena was reportedly arrested in Cyprus in 2014 for allegedly stealing a $28 million ring. She later proved that the ring was given to her by Rybolovlev during their marriage, but being a huge stakeholder of Cyprus’ biggest bank, rumors started coming out about Rybolovlev using his influence in plotting the arrest of his wife.

The end of a marriage

For almost seven years, the divorce proceedings of Rybolovlev and his wife took different turns and involved several people. Dubbed as the divorce of the century and the most expensive one yet, Elena rejected several billion-dollar settlements and was finally granted $4.5 billion by a court in Geneva in May 2014. But in June of that year, Rybolovlev’s camp appealed that the amount be cut to just $600 million, which would be a huge win for him. Elena had the option of taking the case to the Swiss Supreme Court, but the legal battle finally ended quietly in 2015 when the couple agreed to an undisclosed settlement.

In a joint press release by Dmitry and Elena, they announced that they have “reached an agreement on the terms of their divorce” including the end to all legal proceedings. The amount of the settlement remains undisclosed to this day, but it will go down in history as the most talked about and probably the most expensive divorce.

The bottomline

Although this settlement was considered a victory for Rybolovlev, he is still not out of the woods yet because of his continuing legal battle with Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier. But controversy is part of every wealthy man’s life, so everyone is looking forward to the next chapter of Rybolovlev’s colorful life.