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Can I get a divorce in England or Wales?

6th November 2023 by Jonathan Talbot

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You may have read in the news of many wealthy international divorces occurring in England, such as the divorce of the Dubai ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, believed to be one of the largest in the history of UK divorces.  The popularity of England and Wales for international divorce is due to the many benefits it can afford in comparison to other countries.  Judges tend to have much greater discretion in England and Wales, and our starting point of equality is not always matched in other jurisdictions.   

If you did not marry in England or Wales, or if you or your spouse do not currently live in England or Wales, you may be wondering if you would be able to obtain a divorce here. 

‘To be allowed to divorce in England or Wales, you must meet certain criteria and the courts must have what is known as ‘jurisdiction’ to act.  This simply means that the courts have the power to determine your divorce,’ says Jonathan Talbot, head of Family law at Laceys Solicitors. ‘If you meet the legal requirements then you can proceed to apply for a divorce in England or Wales, even if you do not presently reside here or did not marry here.’

It is important to note that some people may have an option of divorcing in more than one country.  If so, then taking early legal advice can help you determine which jurisdiction would be the best option for your circumstances.

What are the legal requirements for a divorce in England and Wales?

  1. You have been married for at least one year. If you try to divorce before one year of marriage, the courts will refuse your application.
  2. Your marriage has broken down irretrievably. This means that you are satisfied there is no prospect of a reconciliation. You may wish to attempt   couples counselling before coming to this decision if you are in any doubt as to the ending of your marriage but there is no compulsion for you to have attended this nor indeed to show why the marriage has ended. This is because the irretrievable breakdown has become the sole basis for the courts in England and Wales to grant a decree of divorce following the introduction of no-fault divorce under the Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act 2020
  3. Your marriage is legally recognised in England and Wales. It does not matter where in the world you married, provided your marriage is recognised as legitimate in England and Wales.  This can sometimes be a complex question and if you are in doubt, it is crucial that you obtain expert legal advice, as the implications can be far reaching if your marriage is unrecognised in the UK.  Generally, to be recognised the marriage must have been legal in the country in which it took place, both spouses must have had capacity to enter into the marriage, and any previous marriages must have been terminated properly prior to the marriage.  This can impact some religious ceremonies that occur, typically within the UK.  For example, if you are Muslim and get married under Sharia Law within the UK, it will not be legally recognised in England and Wales.  If your marriage certificate is not in English, a certified translation will be needed for the courts.
  4. Jurisdiction is established. There are a number of criteria any one of which if met will permit the courts in England and Wales to grant a divorce, namely;
  • both spouses are habitually resident in England or Wales;
  • your spouse is habitually resident in England or Wales;
  • both spouses are domiciled in England or Wales;
  • you are habitually resident in England or Wales and have lived here for at least a year; or
  • you are domiciled and habitually resident in England or Wales and have lived here for at least six months.

What if I have lived abroad?

If you have lived abroad, or are currently living abroad, then you will need to be able to establish jurisdiction in England or Wales to apply for a divorce here.  If your spouse resides in England or Wales then the jurisdiction test will be met.  If neither you or your spouse reside in England or Wales then you must establish that you are both domiciled there. 

‘Domicile’ is not legally defined by statute but it is taken to mean the country where you have your closest ties, such as where your permanent home is, your legal affairs and tax affairs.  If you are unsure, then it is important to seek legal advice. 

What if my spouse wishes to apply for divorce in another country?

For couples with an international lifestyle, you may be entitled to issue divorce proceedings in more than one country. 

If your spouse beats you to it and applies for a divorce first in another country, then you will lose your opportunity to issue in England or Wales unless those foreign proceedings can be stayed or halted by the courts in England and Wales. This could be costly for you, so it is important not to delay.

If you have a choice of countries within which you can issue your divorce, then it is critical to obtain early advice from an experienced family lawyer. 

How we can help

One of our family law experts will be able to advise you on the options available to you and what type of court orders you could seek.  We can advise upon the options available to you, considering not only the financial impact but also the court orders available in relation to where any children of the family may live, and how orders could be enforced in other countries.  

If you are contemplating divorce, or just want some preliminary advice on your options and if you are entitled to issue proceedings in England or Wales, please contact our family law team on 01202 377800 or email  j.talbot@laceyssolicitors.co.uk. for further advice. 

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

Jonathan Talbot

Partner — Family

Direct dial: 01202 377844

Email

Jonathan Talbot
  • “Jonathan has been amazing at helping me get a resolution with my ex-husband. He was a great listener when I was getting very upset about clauses in our old divorce agreement that were not being adhered to and reacted really quickly with a letter and support. I would not hesitate to ask Jonathan for help again but please excuse me if I hope that doesn’t happen for a while as we all know dealing with ex's is never much fun! Thank you Jonathan.”

    Sharron Davies, MBE

  • “Very happy with how you dealt with my case. Many thanks for your help and advice from Mr Talbot and his secretary.”

    Jan Saad

  • “Jonathan Talbot explained the process and how things would proceed. He was very patient allowing us time to understand and adapt to our new situation. Legal language can be quite difficult to understand and he would explain what it meant and how it would impact.”

    Rae Frederick

  • “I always use Laceys for my legal work, I feel able to talk to them and I know they listen. They have always been professional and kind.”

    Dawn Aston

  • “I’d like to extend heartfelt thanks to you and Shannon for helping me through this difficult time, I am really very appreciative to have had you on my team this year, you’ve been an enormous support. ”

    Mrs W

Jonathan heads up Laceys family department and having qualified as a Solicitor in 1983, he has over 35 years experience in Family Law.

He specialises in Family and Relationship Breakdowns, Financial Remedies, Collaborative Law and International Family Law.

Jonathan has a exceptional caring nature and will always strive to find solutions to family issues outside of the court if at all possible.

Outside of work Jonathan likes to keep himself busy by competing in Ironman 70.3’s when he gets the chance – which are no easy feat at having to complete a 1.2 mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and then a 13.1 mile run each race!

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