Family law involving more than one country can be very complicated. The legal position can be different depending on what countries are involved, and sometimes even between regions within a particular country.
This can be a complex area often needing very urgent advice and you should get specialist legal advice from a family lawyer experienced in international issues – see Useful links.
The financial outcome on a divorce can be dramatically different abroad and might cause real hardship to one person or even the children.
It is important to make sure that a marriage that took place abroad is recognised here since this can affect issues including Wills and inheritances, nationality, immigration, tax and welfare benefits. Whether you are considered to be married or not under English law will impact on any financial claims or obligations you may have on separation or divorce.
If you married abroad, and the ceremony and administrative agreements took place in accordance with the laws of the country where you married, your marriage will probably be recognised and valid in England and Wales. If so, you will be able to divorce in England and Wales and have financial claims here.
You may be able to bring divorce proceedings in another country (including Scotland and Northern Ireland) if:
- you married or celebrated your civil partnership abroad
- either you or your spouse were born, lived and/or still live outside of England and Wales
- either you or your spouse are nationals of another country.
If you think this may apply to you, a lawyer in your home country can get advice from a family lawyer in each other country that you have a connection with, so you can decide where would be the best place for you to start any divorce proceedings - see Useful links. This is because if your spouse starts divorce proceedings outside of England and Wales but in a European Union country (excluding Denmark) before you start them here, the divorce and all financial issues will be dealt with in the country that your spouse chose.
This is the law known as Brussells II – see Jargon made clear. It does not matter if England and Wales (or another country) has a much closer connection with you or your spouse. It only matters where the divorce proceedings were issued first.
If the divorce and all financial issues are dealt with in the country your spouse chose, this might leave you much worse off than you would have been if divorce proceedings had been dealt with here or in a different country. You will need to take urgent advice and possibly issue divorce proceedings very quickly to make sure that the divorce and financial issues are dealt with in your preferred country.
Within England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland strict rules decide which country's courts should deal with the divorce and financial proceedings. These are often based on where you last lived as a couple.
If the countries involved are England and Wales and another country outside the European Union, which country should deal with the divorce is often based on where the closest connection with the family is.
- Take urgent legal advice from a family lawyer who is a specialist in dealing with international cases, especially if another European Union country is involved.
- Take advice from a lawyer in each relevant country.
- Don't discuss mediation and perhaps even counselling without first taking legal advice and making sure court proceedings have been issued in the most advantageous country for you.
- Consider whether you should freeze your spouse's assets to stop them being disposed of before a settlement or transferred abroad.
- Always respond quickly when served with court papers, especially court papers from abroad.
- Do not rely on advice from your spouse, friends or colleagues.
- Keep your original marriage certificate in a safe place and, if it is not in English, get a certified translation from a court approved translator or lawyer known as a public notary.