How Do I Get Divorced if I Married Abroad?

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Whatever your reasons for marrying abroad, there are a few points to consider when deciding to get divorced. In most cases, providing you have a valid marriage certificate (and certified translation if not written in English) you will be able to start divorce proceedings in England or Wales.

Will my marriage be recognised in the UK if I married abroad?

For your marriage to be recognised here, it must have been lawful in the country in which the marriage took place. In order to determine whether the marriage was ‘lawful’ the general view is that if it was carried out in accordance with the local customs and laws, then it is usually a lawful marriage.

Providing the marriage is valid and lawful, you will be able to initiate divorce proceedings in the English courts.

Can I get a divorce if my spouse lives in another country?

If your husband or wife lives abroad, and you are still living in England or Wales, you can start divorce proceedings. An English court has jurisdiction to deal with a divorce where one of the following applies:

  • You and your spouse are habitually resident in England and Wales
  • You and your spouse were last habitually resident in England and Wales,
  • You are habitually resident in England and Wales and have lived here for a year or more.
  • You are habitually resident in England and Wales and have lived here for at least six months and you are also domiciled in England and Wales
  • You and your spouse are domiciled in England and Wales

To establish ‘habitual residence’ you will need to prove you have a right to live in the country where you wish the divorce proceedings to start and intend to make it your home (at least for the time being). If you are a British national living here for example, this should be straightforward. ‘Domicile’ is a more permanent concept and is usually the same as that of your father when you were born, or the same as your mother if your parents were not married. To gain a new domicile, you have to show your intention to live permanently in a country and do not intend to return to live in your domicile of origin.

Where should the divorce take place if I married abroad?

This will depend on the facts of the case and what is important to you. You should consider things such as:

  • Speed and ease of the process
  • How Courts approach financial settlements
  • If you have signed a pre-nuptial agreement, whether it will be adequately considered or upheld
  • How Courts approach arrangements for any children of the marriage.

How do I show evidence of my marriage abroad?

To issue a divorce in England or Wales, you will need to provide the Court with your marriage certificate. If it is not in English, you will need to obtain a certified translation which must be done by a professional who marks it as a certified translation. You should send both the original marriage certificate and the translation along with the divorce petition to the Court.

If you do not have the original marriage certificate, try to obtain one, or at least a certified copy. But if this is not possible, try contacting the Registrar or relevant local body in the country you married to get an official copy. The copy must be marked as a true copy of the original – a simple photocopy or print-off is not usually acceptable.

There are some very limited situations where the Court will accept a photocopy, this is usually where there is no possibility of obtaining the original. However, this requires an additional application to Court, which will incur further costs and delay the divorce proceedings.

Advantages to obtaining a divorce in England and Wales

  • Providing your marriage is valid and recognised within England and Wales, you can get divorced after one year. By contrast, in other jurisdictions around the world, there are strict requirements that a married couple must have lived apart for at least four of the five years before divorce proceedings are issued.
  • Timescale is an important consideration. In some jurisdictions, the divorce process can take several years, whereas the divorce process in English courts (excluding dealing with finances and child issues) usually takes a matter of months from start to finish and is therefore considerably quicker.
  • The English courts apply a principle of non-discrimination when it comes to each person’s financial contribution to the marriage. In simple terms this means the Court’s stating point when diving a couple’s assets is typically 50/50 even if one spouse has contributed significantly less than the other. In various other worldwide jurisdictions, the focus is on each party’s financial contribution during the marriage, strongly disadvantaging the weaker party as a result.
  • English courts also have far more rigorous financial disclosure rules than other jurisdictions. This could be important in cases that are particularly acrimonious if the other jurisdiction takes a narrower approach when deciding how matrimonial assets are to be divided.
  • Divorces that take place in other jurisdictions are not automatically recognised by English courts. This may have consequences if you wish to remarry, for example.

If the divorce could in theory take place in more than one jurisdiction (for instance if the spouses reside in two different countries), then often the country in which the divorce process was started first will be where the divorce proceeds. In this case, the speed at which you can start proceedings becomes important.

Circumstances where a divorce in England or Wales is not possible

There are some limitations on what can be arranged through the English court system. Property owned abroad, for example, may not be under the jurisdiction of an English court. Judges cannot always make orders regarding assets overseas unless the other party agrees. In France, for instance, an English court cannot order a property to be transferred from one party to another. In cases such as these, you would have to contact a foreign lawyer or have your solicitor in this country do it for you.

I married in the UK and have moved abroad. Where can I get divorced?

Whether you can use English divorce law abroad largely depends on where you are domiciled and habitually resident. For example, you may be a Spanish resident and lived there for many years, and still be considered domiciled in the UK. Domicile means you retain a connection with your country of origin, and as such an English court has jurisdiction to grant a divorce. However, if you relinquished your domicile by taking foreign citizenship, you may not be able to use the English court system. It’s always wise to check your specific circumstances with your solicitor.

In most cases, anyone originally from England or Wales can use English jurisdiction because they are domiciled in the UK.


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