Getting divorced in the UK if you live abroad

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With much uncertainty still surrounding Britain’s departure from the EU, many people are wondering how divorce will work across international borders. Chris Miller, family law and divorce solicitor, discusses the process of applying for a divorce in the UK if you live abroad, and the options available to you.

How will Brexit affect my divorce?

Recently we’re getting a number of enquiries from clients living abroad who are concerned about their position should their relationship break down and they need a divorce – in particular we’re hearing worries about the settlement of any property or financial issues. This issue has been thrown into sharp relief now because of the potential effects of Brexit.

Until we actually leave the EU, we’re still governed by the relevant European laws in this area. What this means is that, if divorce proceedings are issued in one EU country, any other related proceedings (such as finances) must also be handled in that country.

It’s therefore important to decide which country you would prefer to deal with your divorce and financial separation in before you actually apply for divorce.

This may be a decision you need to make quickly. If there’s a threat that your spouse might lodge a divorce petition in another country’s courts, but you want to handle the separation under English law, you might need to take urgent action to start your divorce in England before they can get the ball rolling abroad.

Can I get divorced in England if I live abroad?

You can apply for a divorce in England even if you live abroad, provided that you can establish ‘habitual residence’ here. ‘Habitual residence’ is sometimes a difficult idea to explain, but essentially it means your ‘permanent or habitual centre of interests’, rather than where you actually currently live.

What are the criteria for habitual residence?

  • the location of the family home
  • 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
  • postal address
  • medical and dental arrangements

Some of those factors may suggest a habitual residence in England, others might point in the other direction. It’s important to get advice at an early stage to establish any potential grounds before any proceedings are issued so that a decision can be made which is best for you.

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. The courts will try to establish a fair and equitable division of matrimonial assets in an open and transparent way – although note that ‘equitable’ doesn’t mean the same thing as ‘equal’ or ’50:50’.

This may be very different to the law and procedure for other EU countries (or elsewhere), and you should check very carefully what the law is in any other country where you live before making a decision.

Further information

If you would like advice on any of these issues from Chris or another specialist family law solicitor, please contact us at 0117 325 2929 or via our 
online form.


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