If you or your partner starts divorce proceedings abroad, what happens during the divorce or dissolution (in the case of a civil partnership) depends where the process starts; whether it started in the UK, the European Union or elsewhere. This guide is no substitute for legal advice. If you or your ex starts divorce proceedings abroad, you will need to consider paying for specialist advice. Consider carefully before starting divorce proceedings outside the UK, particularly if you or you ex are mainly resident in the UK
Divorcing or dissolving your civil partnership in the UK
Not all nations in the UK have the same legal system when it comes to handling financial arrangements after divorce or dissolution. The system in England and Wales is different to Northern Ireland, and Scotland.
Divorcing or dissolving your civil partnership in other parts of the EU
If you are the first member of the couple to start proceedings the country in which you start proceedings is where that’s the proceedings will take place. EU law currently means you might have the right to get divorced or dissolve your civil partnership in a different EU country to the one where you married or registered your civil partnership. (THIS MAY CHANGE!)
Divorcing or dissolving your civil partnership outside the EU
If either you or your partner starts proceedings in a non-EU country then things can get more complex and will depend on the divorce or dissolution laws of that country.
IS MY DIVORCE LEGAL
Under the Family Law Act 1986 an overseas divorce is recognised in the UK if it is both ‘effective under the law of the country in which it was obtained’, whether at the relevant date either party was either habitually resident or domiciled in that country or was a national of that country, and that there should have been some formal proceedings either before a court or some other formal body recognised by the state for that purpose (for example, in Pakistan the Union Council).
The UK Government said ‘It is an important aspect that the judicial or other body should be impartial as to the outcome of the proceedings.’
If there are no proceedings, then at the relevant date (that is, the date on which the divorce was obtained), both parties were domiciled in that country or one was domiciled there and the other was domiciled in a country which recognised the divorce; and
neither party had been habitually resident in the UK throughout the period of one year immediately preceding that date.
The term ‘otherwise than by means of proceedings’ covers, for example, a meeting of family members convened to dissolve a West African customary marriage or to hear the pronouncement of talaq.
How your divorce or dissolution location can affect your settlement
To give you some idea of how different it can be you only need look at the differences within the United Kingdom. Even between England, Wales Northern Ireland Scotland the law when it comes to divorce and or dissolution is very different. In Scotland, only ‘matrimonial property’, anything bought during the marriage is taken into account when making a settlement. Remember that in some countries separating couples don’t have to tell each other about their financial assets during divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership.
Getting a financial settlement if you divorce abroad
This should cover everything you need to know about getting a settlement in the UK (Link to maintenance guide (no 6) here).
If you divorce abroad, whether inside or outside the UK and there is no formal financial settlement you can go to a UK court to get a settlement.
In order to go to court you need to show that:
- either you or your ex lived in England and Wales at the time foreign divorce proceedings started
- either you or your ex was habitually resident in England and Wales for one year before the date of the application (for the financial settlement) or at the time of the foreign divorce or
- either you or your ex has an interest in possession in a dwelling house in England and Wales which was your matrimonial home.
If your home is the only connection you have with England and Wales, the claim will only be limited to the value of the house.
Getting divorced abroad: what to bear in mind
You are best taking advice from a solicitor ideally one who is familiar with laws in the country where your divorce or dissolution proceedings could start.
Legal advice is expensive but you will be informed as to the consequences of getting divorced abroad.
Does my prenuptial agreement have any basis?
Prenuptial agreements are not legally enforceable in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but they are valid in Scotland. Other countries, for example the United States, they can be taken into account. However, courts may use them to help reach a settlement.