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International Divorce

Over the past few decades, it has become increasingly popular for people to move around the world and settle in different countries. This means it is generally common for couples to undergo an international divorce process when ending a marriage, whereby they are eligible to divorce in more than one jurisdiction across different countries.

Seeking expert legal advice on international divorce issues after realising a relationship is ending is often the last thing on people’s minds. However, if you are eligible to divorce in more than one country, filing for an international divorce as quickly as possible could make a real difference to the outcome. 

International Divorce Lawyers

Our international divorce lawyers regularly advise on cases involving complex international aspects. We work closely with other family law specialists around the world to provide a truly international service. With extensive experience across divorce law and complex international aspects, our international divorce solicitors provide a reliable and responsive service that guides you through the process.

With a team of expert international divorce solicitors based in the UK, we are highly experienced in providing legal advice for British expats and British citizens who have partners abroad seeking eligibility for international divorce in the UK – or more specifically, England and Wales. 

Speak with an international divorce solicitor today.

Applying for An International Divorce

Ending a marriage can be difficult at the best of times, but getting an international divorce can bring additional complexities. With divorce law differing significantly between countries, it can seem as though there is not a clear-cut option when proceeding with an international divorce.

Whether you are the petitioner (the person who starts the divorce proceedings) or the respondent, there is usually little difference in the divorce application process in English courts if the divorce is amicable. The only usual exception for differences in divorce proceedings is if the respondent chooses to defend the petition. However, these processes may not be the case when dealing with international divorce.

As some country’s laws may be more favourable towards your case than others, it is imperative to seek a specialist international divorce solicitor who understands these laws before applying for an international divorce.

At Austin Kemp, our international divorce solicitors take a personal approach to your case, providing specialist legal advice on the best way to move forward with your international divorce.

When To Apply For An International Divorce

You must have been married for at least one year in order to apply for an international divorce. If you or your partner have decided to end the marriage, it is important that you apply for an international divorce as soon as possible with the assistance of an experienced international divorce solicitor.  

You should act quickly and seek prompt legal advice for your international divorce, especially if you are an expat and aren’t sure which jurisdiction or jurisdictions you could be eligible to divorce in. 

In some cases, the international divorce ends up being finalised in whichever country the divorce petition is first served. For instance, if a partner petitioned for international divorce in a different country to your own, the divorce may become finalised in that country. 

Our international divorce solicitors often see people whose spouse has begun divorce proceedings abroad. By the time these clients come to see our lawyers, it is often too late to begin proceedings in the UK, where the outcome could have been more favourable for them.

If you think there may be international elements to your divorce, it is highly recommended that you speak to our experienced international divorce solicitors as soon as possible. Our solicitors are happy to advise clients at all stages of the international divorce process, even if you are not yet sure that you want the divorce to go ahead. 

Where To Apply For An International Divorce

With multiple jurisdictions involved across different countries, it can be difficult to know where to apply for your international divorce. For instance, whether or not you can apply for an international divorce in the UK (England and Wales) largely depends upon your habitual residence or domicile. 

If you think you or your spouse could be eligible for international divorce in more than one jurisdiction, or even if you are unsure, it is highly recommended that you seek legal advice as soon as possible from a solicitor experienced in international divorce law in each potential jurisdiction. This way, you can work towards making an informed decision about which country would be best to undertake your divorce in.

Get in touch with us to discuss your particular circumstances – our international divorce solicitors are experienced in UK expat divorces and are happy to help if you are unsure of your eligibility for international divorce in England. To find out more about what to consider regarding an international divorce, see our guide on international divorce considerations

Definition of ‘Habitually Resident’

It is important to know your habitual residency when proceeding with an international divorce. Where you are habitually resident would generally be wherever you live and work. This would normally be the country that you have made your home.

Definition of ‘Domicile’ in England

When looking at which country you could be eligible for international divorce in, unlike habitual residency, you can only have one domicile. Domicile is a legal concept that generally assesses which country is considered your ‘homeland’, or your permanent home.

Domicile is quite a complex area of law and can mean different things in different situations and legal settings. It is usually acquired at birth but could be changed by, for example, cutting all ties to your ‘home’ country and settling elsewhere with the intention of never coming back. 

Many expats find that they are still domiciled in England, so could be eligible for international divorce through the English courts. 

The ‘Petition Race’

As international divorce laws differ across countries, there is often one country that offers a more beneficial outcome than the other. Inevitably, this has resulted in what has become known as a ‘jurisdiction race’ or ‘petition race’ in international divorce cases, where separating spouses ‘race’ to get their divorce petition filed in a country that could see a more beneficial result for them financially.

If international divorce is filed for in different countries within the EU (not including Denmark)  and both countries have jurisdiction, it is normally the case that the country where the first petition is issued, will be where the divorce goes ahead.

For instance, English and Welsh courts are known to be more generous towards the financially weaker party. However, in other EU countries such as France, this may not be the case. If both countries had jurisdiction, the financially stronger party may be keen to push through the divorce in France, rather than the UK, for example.

Additionally, some people believe the English courts to be cheaper than some of their foreign counterparts.

International Divorce in England and Wales

Contrary to popular belief, expats who are living overseas can sometimes be eligible to divorce through the English courts, as long as certain criteria are met.

Here at Austin Kemp, our international divorce solicitors are experienced at conducting the divorce process for expats. There is usually no need to come back to England at any point in the divorce process, as normally, all elements can be handled remotely , enabling you to get on with your life abroad without the added stress and expense of coming back to the UK.

We are often asked by our clients if an expat divorce takes longer than a normal divorce. In most cases, the answer is no. The process  is the same as the divorces we undertake for our clients who live in England.

How long a divorce takes usually depends on the complexity of your finances. Although the financial settlement is quite separate to the divorce process itself, it usually runs concurrently with it. We usually advise our clients that a divorce takes around 4 to 6 months, although for our high net worth clients, it can be substantially longer.

How to start international divorce proceedings

The person who starts the divorce proceedings is known as the petitioner, and the person responding to the proceedings is called the respondent.

It is the petitioner who files the petition at court in order to begin the international divorce proceedings. Your solicitor can also do this for you if you would prefer, or if it is inconvenient to get to an English court because you live abroad.

The petition gives information to the court about why you and your spouse are ending the marriage. In this petition, you must show that there has been an ‘irretrievable breakdown’ of your marriage in order to proceed with your international divorce.

You can do this by giving evidence in order to prove one of five things:

1) Unreasonable behaviour – You’ll need to show the court that your spouse has behaved so badly that you cannot bear to live with them any longer.

2) Adultery – In order to rely on adultery as grounds for irretrievable marriage breakdown, you will need to show that your spouse has had sex with another individual and that, because of this, you can’t bear to live with them any longer. You may be unable to use this ground for international divorce if you found out more than 6 months ago.

3) Separation for more than 2 years (with consent)

4) Separation for 5 years (without consent)

5) Desertion – Your spouse has deserted you (this will need to be for two years or more)

The International Divorce Process: What to Expect

The international divorce process itself is relatively simple, unless the respondent chooses to ‘defend’ the divorce. This is not very common but can make the process very complex. The standard international divorce process usually takes place over four stages: filing a petition for international divorce, serving the petition, documenting the decree nisi, and then officially ending the marriage with the decree absolute.

1. The Petition

In order to start the international divorce process, the petitioner will file the petition at court. You will need your marriage certificate (or an official copy of your marriage certificate) in order to file the international divorce petition.

It is normal practice for a copy of the international divorce petition to be sent to the respondent at least a week before taking it to court to file it, so the respondent has a chance to look through its contents and take legal advice on it.

However, this is not always possible, especially if speed is of the essence and there are questions surrounding jurisdiction.

If you are in any doubt about any element of the international divorce process, it is highly recommended to seek legal advice from experienced international divorce solicitors, such as Austin Kemp.

2. Serving the petition

The next step in the international divorce process is serving the petition. At this stage, the petition is sent to the respondent (this is usually done by the court, but not always). They will then need to fill in a form saying whether or not they are going to defend the divorce, before sending it back to the court.

Normally, this is all the respondent has to do when proceeding with the international divorce. Although, in regards to children and finances, there are usually more steps involved that are undertaken by the petitioner (unless the respondent wishes to defend the international divorce).

3. The Decree Nisi

A decree nisi is a document from the court that confirms you are able to end your marriage through a divorce. However, your international divorce is not final at this stage. As long as the court is happy with all of your papers, then the decree nisi will then be pronounced in court.

However, if your spouse doesn’t agree to the international divorce, then you may then need to go to court to argue your case where the judge will decide whether or not to grant a decree nisi.

You do not need to be there when the decree nisi is pronounced.

It is at any time after this point that you can ask the court to make a binding order regarding your financial settlement. Although separate from the international divorce process itself, this is a very important element. Ask us for more divorce advice and information about this.

Some couples can come to an agreement about what their financial settlement will look like between themselves or with the help of solicitor-to-solicitor negotiations, for example. But others cannot come to an agreement and have to ask the courts to decide their settlement. This can often be the case for high-net-worth individuals with complex international assets and investments. Find out more about our high net worth divorce and international divorce services.

4. The Decree Absolute

When the decree absolute is finalised, the marriage is officially brought to an end.

The petitioner must wait for at least 6 weeks and 1 day after the decree nisi is pronounced, before applying for the decree absolute. In reality, this can take much longer.

When may be the right time to apply for the decree absolute depends on your circumstances. For example, applying for a decree absolute too soon could impact the outcome of your financial settlement. Speak to our international divorce solicitors for more information about this.

International Divorce FAQs

How long does it take to get an international divorce?

The length of time that an international divorce takes to finalise, from petition to decree absolute, can vary depending on your circumstances.

Divorces involving high net worth individuals with international assets, can take much longer, as complex negotiations need to take place to work out how to split these. 

As a very rough estimate, we tell our clients to expect an international divorce to take around 4 to 6 months. However, it can take significantly longer than this. The best way to ensure the process goes forward as quickly as possible is to seek the help of an international divorce lawyer, who will have direct access to international divorce networks and knowledge of country divorce laws.

Can I get an international divorce in England?

Yes, you can get an international divorce in England. However, in order to proceed with the process through English courts, you would need a sufficient connection with England and Wales. 

For example, if you are habitually resident in England and Wales, you may be eligible to get an international divorce here, even if you were married elsewhere.

English and Welsh divorce law (Scottish law is a separate system) is known worldwide for being much more generous than some other jurisdictions towards the ‘financially weaker’ party. Indeed, London has become known as the international ‘divorce capital’ of the world for this very reason.

In order to get an international divorce in England and Wales, you (or your spouse) will have to fall into a particular category. Either:

  • England or Wales was the last habitual residence of you and your spouse and one of you is still living there
  • The respondent is habitually resident there
  • The petitioner has lived in England or Wales for the 12 months just before starting the divorce proceedings
  • The petitioner has lived in England or Wales for the 6 months just before starting the divorce proceedings and is domiciled there
  • Both you and your spouse are domiciled in England and Wales

There may also be some other limited circumstances where you could find that you could proceed with an international divorce in England and Wales, although this is often only if you or your spouse is domiciled there. 

Where can I get an international divorce?

When thinking about where you may be eligible for an international divorce, it can be helpful to consider things such as where you and your spouse were born and where you both live now.

The rules regarding where you may be able to get an international divorce are quite complex, so it is important to speak to an experienced international divorce solicitor about your particular circumstances. However, whether or not you may be permitted to file for divorce in England and Wales, largely depends on where you and your spouse are habitually resident and where you are domiciled.

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