Can I get divorced in the UK if I live abroad?

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If your marriage has broken down, you may be looking to formally and legally end it to enable you to move on. The divorce process is now slightly more straightforward thanks to no-fault divorce, but what happens if you live abroad?

Can I get divorced in England if I live abroad?

Yes, you can apply for a divorce in England even if you live abroad or have citizenship elsewhere. However, you must be able to prove that you have ‘habitual residence’ here.

‘Habitual residence’ can be tricky to define but it essentially means your ‘permanent or habitual centre of interests’ rather than where you currently live, i.e. overseas. For most, the country that has habitual residence is where you spend most of your time.

What are the criteria for habitual residence?

  • The location of the family home, e.g. England or Wales
  • The language spoken at home
  • Where any employment or training is based
  • Where your children go to school
  • The location of your tax, pension and banking arrangements
  • Your residence status
  • Your postal address
  • Your medical and dental arrangements

If you are originally from England or Wales, you can get a divorce in the UK if this is where you are domiciled (where you permanently live). However, if you have relinquished your domicile, for example, by acquiring foreign citizenship, you may not be able to use the English courts to divorce.

It’s important to get expert legal advice at an early stage of the divorce process to establish your habitual residence or domicile status and any potential difficulties you may face.

Does Brexit affect my divorce?

Brexit has left many of us with uncertainty around the changes to the law in England and Wales, and in particular, how divorce and separation work across international borders.

Until we left the EU in 2020, Britain was still governed by European laws concerning family legal matters. This meant that if a divorce was issued in one EU country, any other related proceedings, such as finances and childcare, were also handled in that country.

If you filed for divorce in England, Wales or an EU country before 11pm on 31st January 2020, your divorce will be dealt with under the previous EU rules.

Since Brexit, the legal system in England and Wales has been independent of the EU and divorce proceedings in an EU country or internationally are dealt with differently. It’s therefore important to decide where you would prefer to deal with your divorce or financial separation before you make an application.

Should I get divorced in England if I live abroad?

Divorce and financial separation in England and Wales is relatively straightforward and based on openness and transparency, especially due to the introduction of no-fault divorce.

The courts will try to establish a fair and equitable division of matrimonial assets openly and transparently. However, it’s important to note that ‘equitable’ doesn’t mean the same thing as ‘equal’ or ’50:50’.

Generally, the country that receives the application for divorce first will have exclusive jurisdiction (the power to make legal decisions). Therefore, this may be a decision you need to make quickly if you want to handle the separation under English law but there’s a threat that your spouse might lodge a divorce application elsewhere, i.e. abroad. However, the court has the right to stay (halt) the proceedings if it is deemed fairer for the divorce to be dealt with in an alternative jurisdiction.

If you have assets in England and another country, you should seek legal advice in both countries.

Get in touch with our divorce solicitors

Divorce and separation can be emotional and challenging for all involved, especially if it involves international jurisdiction. Our expert divorce lawyers are here to make the process as straightforward as possible.

Get in touch by calling 0117 325 2929 or fill out our online enquiry form. Alternatively, you can click here to make an immediate start online.


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