Divorce proceedings have begun in earnest at United Intl. Pictures, the foreign distribution joint venture between Paramount and Universal.

The two studios announced plans last September to dismantle UIP and launch separate international arms in 2007, both of which will be based in London. But they were not allowed to approach UIP staff with job offers until March 23.

Since then, the six floors of UIP’s Hammersmith HQ have been heaving with intrigue, as team captains Andrew Cripps for Paramount and David Kosse for Universal picked their squads, and staffers found out who was wanted by one, both — or neither.

Predictably, Cripps has emerged with most of UIP’s senior management on his side. As the long-serving president and chief operating officer of UIP, he hired them all in the first place, so once he threw his lot in with Paramount, it was always likely that most would follow him.

The only obstacle was that U, still smarting over the fact that Cripps had rejected its offer to join Kosse, insisted that he could not negotiate personally with UIP staff under the continuing terms of his own UIP contract, which runs to the end of this year.

So it fell to Par’s veteran London-based senior veep Michael O’Sullivan to conduct the interviews. O’Sullivan himself will move across to become finance chief of Par Intl. under Cripps.

Despite that unwieldy process, Par has signed up UIP’s senior VP of European sales Roger Pollock to become exec VP of international distribution. His deputy Mark Viane will be Par’s senior veep of European distribution. Jorge Peregrino will move across as senior veepee, distribution in Latin America.

UIP’s VP creative Chas Evans will become senior VP, international creative affairs at Par Intl. Katharine Willing will be senior VP, international publicity, and legal chief Philip Solomons will be exec VP of business affairs and general counsel. Simon Coombes will join from DreamWorks as VP, media.

Cripps has also pulled off the considerable coup of persuading Jon Anderson to return from UIP’s Australian outpost as exec VP, international marketing. UIP toppers always rated Anderson, who formerly worked for Sony in London, as their most talented local marketer, and previously attempted without success to lure him back to Blighty.

Cripps has filled roughly half his 75 vacancies. So far he has drawn exclusively from within UIP, Par and DreamWorks, but will start to look outside for some of the remaining posts.

Given the loyalty of UIP staff to Cripps and the fact that Kosse had already put some of his team in place over the past two years, U was always going to take fewer refugees from Hammersmith. Nonetheless, Kosse has hired 16 UIP staffers, including Andrew Brown as senior VP, marketing.

He has also announced that former Columbia Tri-Star Intl. prexy Duncan Clark will join U as exec VP, international distribution.

Under the divorce settlement, Par will take over UIP’s local offices in the U.K., France, Australia, Brazil and Mexico. Universal will inherit the UIP outposts in Spain, Germany, Italy, Benelux and Russia, and has signalled that it will launch its own U.K. distribution operation under former Fox exec Simon Hewlett in January.

From 2007 onward, UIP will continue to exist as a much reduced operation, servicing both studios in Asia, much of Latin America and the smaller Euro territories. Roughly 50 London staffers out of the current 180 will remain with this rump under m.d. John Horgan.

Those leaving entirely include chairman Stewart Till, acquisitions VP Erica Motley and chief financial officer Phil Anders.