International news sites resembled gossip blogs last week when Russian president Vladimir Putin, 60, and his 55-year-old wife, Lyudmila, announced their intention to divorce after nearly 30 years of marriage. The formal split will make Putin the first Soviet leader to divorce since Peter the Great, who in 1698 forced his wife to take vows as a nun.
Although divorce is common in Russia (the pair will join the approximately 700,000 couples who divorce there annually, according to UNICEF's 2009 statistics), the move is unusual for a world leader, and controversial for a president who built his platform on traditional moral values and support for the Russian Orthodox Church.
Nevertheless, the announcement came as no surprise to those following the rumour-mill. Local media have for years speculated about Lyudmila's almost complete absence from public view, suggesting the pair had in fact already divorced. Some reported Lyudmila had remarried long ago; others guessed that Putin (taking a leaf out of Peter the Great's book) had forced his wife into a convent. One Russian newspaper even reported in 2008 that Putin had two children with Alina Kabayeva, a twenty-something former Olympic gymnast. (That newspaper was immediately shut down.)
In their formal statement last Thursday, Vladimir and Lyudmila cited their "different lives" as the reason for divorce, and Lyudmila professed gratitude for her husband's support in the matter. While she seemed to be referring to support of the emotional kind, it's to be hoped Putin will take good care of her financially as well. Forbes listed Putin as the world's third most powerful man in 2012. According to Business Insider, Putin's net worth could be as high as $40 billion (US), despite having a reported salary in 2012 of only $187,000. Putin's assets include an apartment, some land, several cars, and a KGB pension.
In Canada, the couple's long, traditional marriage would make Lyudmila the ideal spousal support claimant. A linguist and former flight attendant who speaks at least four languages, Lyudmila left bright career prospects to marry Putin, then a KGB officer. She accompanied him on his KGB posting in East Germany, where the couple's two daughters were born, and thereafter took on conventional childcare and homemaking responsibilities. Today, Lyudmila is reported to make less than $4,000 a year, with zero assets.
This is exactly the kind of situation that spousal support in Canada seeks to compensate: one spouse leaves a marriage with no ability to earn income, and no current career skills. Meanwhile, the other has profited from their spouse's labour at home and built a thriving career as well as a family.
Leaving aside any possible property equalization claims, based on Putin's
declared salary (which is probably artificially low) a family court in
Canada would award Lyudmila spousal support of around $7500 per month
under the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines, likely for an unlimited
time period. In Canada, the longer the marriage, the higher the dollar
amount of the award, and the longer its duration. For a marriage over
25 years, the award under the Spousal Support Guidelines would usually
Given Putin's position and the privacy he maintains around his personal life (his daughters have never been photographed, and no family portrait exists), we're unlikely to see any court claim arising out of this divorce, or learn what spousal support and property division arrangement the two come to. But let's hope Russia's current leader goes about the split in a more civilized manner than his 400-year predecessor, Peter the Great.
Lyudmila, despite her penchant for being photographed in head scarves, is unlikely to take to life in a convent.