The outcome of a Supreme Court battle that pits Scotland against England and an aristocrat against his estranged wife may have significant implications for divorcing couples, lawyers say.

Charles Villiers and Emma Villiers, who lived near Dumbarton and separated after 18 years of marriage, are divorcing in Scotland.

But they disagree over whether their fight over money should be heard in an English or Scottish court.

Mr Villiers, 56, argues that because divorce proceedings are taking place in Scotland any fight over money should also take place in Scotland.

His estranged wife, who now lives in England, disagrees.

Five Supreme Court justices yesterday began hearing the latest round of the dispute at a session of the Supreme Court in London that will last two days. Justices are not expected to deliver a ruling until next year.

According to The Daily Telegraph, Michael Horton, representing Mr Villiers, suggested in court that it would spark “chaos” if English judges were to decide upon Scottish divorce cases.

The lawyer also called for individual disputes to be dealt with by the courts of one country. Legal experts, meanwhile, argue that the justices are being asked to grapple with issues relating to “forum shopping” and “divorce tourism”.

They insist that the case could have far-reaching legal implications. Mr Villiers asked Supreme Court justices to consider the case after judges at the High Court and Court of Appeal in London had ruled against him.

A judge based in the Family Division of the High Court in London had initially examined it. Mrs Justice Parker, who began analysing both sides of the argument in 2015, said any fight over the division of assets should take place in England.

Moreover, in 2018, three Court of Appeal judges in London upheld this decision and dismissed an appeal by Mr Villiers.

They also held that divorce proceedings in Scotland and a money fight in England were not “related actions”.

Mr Villiers then asked Supreme Court justices to consider the case and yesterday, it began hearing arguments from both sides.

They are expected to publish a ruling next year. Courts have previously been told that the couple had spent almost all of their married life in Scotland and, after 17 years together, they separated in 2012.

Mr Villiers had stayed in the family home, Milton House, in Dumbarton, after the separation. Mrs Villiers “came south to England” and lived near Oxford then in London, where she made a claim in the High Court.

Lawyer Russell Bywater, representing Mr Villiers for the law firm Dawson Cornwell, says the case pits the English and Scottish jurisdictions’ “different approaches to spousal maintenance” against each other.

“In Scotland the rule of thumb is that a former spouse receives alimony for three years post-divorce, whereas in England it could be until one of the former spouses dies,” he said, outside court.

“The Supreme Court is being asked to bring clarity to what is otherwise an anomaly between intra-UK jurisdictions.”

Specialist lawyers watching the case say justices are considering an important issue and their ruling could have important implications.

“The Supreme Court is being asked to address the issue of forum shopping,” said Neil Russell, who is based at law firm Seddons. “This can be of crucial concern in particular in divorce cases, because in England and Wales there is potential for a life-time maintenance award to be granted, whilst in Scotland the maximum award is for three years only.”

John Darnton, who is based at BDB Pitmans, said: “It will be very interesting to see what the Supreme Court has to say on this important issue.

“Divorce tourism is commonplace amongst wealthy international couples but litigating over which country deals with finances can be massively expensive and stressful.

“Some judges are clearly keen to discourage the practice but, in a case like this, it is easy to have sympathy with a wife who could be significantly worse off if the divorce and finances are dealt with in Scotland.

“Currently, most English maintenance awards are linked to needs and a shortterm maintenance order of the type made in Scotland may well fall short of meeting those needs.”

Simon Blain, who is based at Forsters, said: “Clear rules are needed to establish which court should have jurisdiction in such cases.”

Mr and Mrs Villiers are listed on the website The site provides a “genealogical survey” of Britain’s peerage and shows Mr Villiers to be a relative of the Duchess of Cornwall.