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Divorce from abroad for British expats
When a relationship breaks down, the natural reaction is for people to turn to their extended support network of friends and family. But for many expats, this isn’t always immediately possible. For people living abroad, there may be added complexities that require specialist advice.
Mark Sage of the family law team at Barcan Woodward looks at a recent case concerning divorcing expat spouses who lived abroad at the time of their separation.
My client relocated to Hong Kong four years ago, with her partner of eight years and two year old child, so that her husband could develop his career. During her time there, my client was part of a close-knit community and enjoyed the expat lifestyle as a non-working wife. Once her marriage ended however, she wanted to return to the UK and be with her family.
Initially my client’s husband refused to allow her to take their child back to the UK, threatening to obtain an order from the Hong Kong courts to legally prevent her doing so. As she was financially dependent on her husband, she had no choice but to remain in Hong Kong. She described feeling emotional, isolated and vulnerable.
Through my professional network of colleagues, I was able to speak to a Hong Kong-based lawyer I’d previously met, who understood the implications for my client and was able to make her aware of her options. These included staying in Hong Kong permanently, instigating proceedings either in Hong Kong or the UK, or agreeing a return to the UK with her child.
After a period of discussion, agreement was reached between my client and her husband on where negotiations were to take place and that my client could return to the UK with her child. We also agreed on the release of funds to rent/buy a UK property and ongoing financial provision for my client and their daughter.
The decision regarding which jurisdiction the negotiations were to take place within was vitally important. With two jurisdictions available to the couple, large sums could’ve been spent determining which one dealt with the divorce, and there is often a benefit to one party by issuing in one jurisdiction.
My client’s husband also consented to their child returning to the UK on the agreement that she returned to Hong Kong, or whichever country her husband was based in, on at least four occasions per year. This would be funded by the husband so that contact could take place. He would also have contact with his daughter when he returned to the UK for business purposes.
Using my network of colleagues in the UK, I was able to ensure that my client had the support she needed to relocate, including relocation specialists, lettings and estate agencies. I was also able to refer to a specialist broker who secured a mortgage based on the maintenance payments she was receiving. My colleagues undertook the conveyancing work and completed a will addressing the issue of guardians in the event of her death.
Afterwards, my client stated that “despite being many thousands of miles away, it felt as though I was next door”. Furthermore, they now have an excellent relationship and have maintained contact for their daughter.
Mark Sage is a provider of specialist services to the UK expat community, with particular experience of dealing with expats based in Hong Kong.