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Insights // 25 April 2024

Divorcing in England and Wales If You Married Abroad

Catherine Currie and Anisha Ali, in our Family Law team, explain if you can get divorced in England and Wales if you were married abroad. 

Many couples choose to marry abroad. This may be because one or both spouses want to marry in their home country, or they desire a destination wedding somewhere hot and exotic. Couples marrying abroad may find themselves asking the following questions, when considering a subsequent divorce.

Can I get divorced in England if I was married abroad?

Just because a marriage occurs abroad, this does not necessarily prevent a divorce taking place in England or Wales. However, there are certain requirements before you can get divorced in this jurisdiction:

1) Marriage Certificate:

You must have a valid marriage certificate. If the marriage certificate is in a foreign language, you will need to obtain a certified English translation. This must accompany the divorce application when it is sent to the Court to be issued. If you do not have the original certificate, it is usually possible to apply for a legitimate copy in the country you married in.

2) Valid under law:

The marriage must be recognised as valid under English and Welsh law in order to divorce in this jurisdiction. This means it must have taken place either in a country where English and Welsh law was applicable; or conducted according to the local law of that country.

For a marriage to be lawful under the local law of a country, the ceremony must be conducted in a way that legal requirements of that country were met, for example - a specific number of witnesses or the use of specific wording.

If the marriage meets the local legal requirements, it will likely be a lawful marriage. If it does not, the marriage is invalid and therefore there is no need for divorce.

So for example where there is the option to have a religious marriage, unless it is legally registered to become a civil marriage, it is not a valid marriage in law.

3) Jurisdiction requirements.

There are specific jurisdiction requirements for obtaining a divorce in the English and Welsh Courts and one of the following conditions must apply:

  • Both you and your spouse are habitually resident in England and Wales;
  • Both you and your spouse were last habitually resident in England and Wales, and one of you still resides here;
  • Your spouse is habitually resident in England and Wales;
  • You are habitually resident in England and Wales and have resided here for a year;
  • You are habitually resident in England and Wales and have resided here for 6 months and you are also domiciled in England and Wales;
  • Both you and your spouse are domiciled in England and Wales.

Habitual residence is a concept which cannot be covered in full here but it can be established by demonstrating you have a right to reside in England and currently live here, with the intention to make it your home, for at least a short-term period.

Domicile is generally the country you would consider to be your permanent home. Your domicile of origin is acquired at birth (usually your father’s domicile, or mother’s if your parents were unmarried). To gain a new domicile of choice, you must show you intend to live permanently in a new country and won’t return to live in your domicile of origin.

Can I get a divorce in England or Wales if my spouse now lives abroad?

Yes, provided that the marriage is valid (see above) and the jurisdiction requirements for divorcing in England or Wales are met. Proceedings could take longer and service requirements can be more complicated if your spouse lives abroad. Generally if there are court hearings listed, foreign residents can attend remotely, so this does not necessarily need to delay proceedings.  

Should I divorce in the country I was married in or in England?

If you are considering divorce, it would be wise to weigh up the advantages of divorcing in England and Wales versus other potential available jurisdictions. Other jurisdictions deal with the divorce process and financial aspects on the divorce differently.

It is worth taking early legal advice where we can explain at an initial meeting the legal provision for divorce and dividing assets. It is then usually prudent, where another jurisdiction/s may be an option for a divorce, to obtain specific advice on the financial remedy provisions and divorce procedure there.

At Blandy & Blandy, we have a wealth of experience dealing with international aspects of a divorce and can guide and advise you on making an informed decision before you divorce and how to ensure the legalities are met.

For further information or legal advice, please contact law@blandy.co.uk or call 0118 951 6800. 

This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.

Catherine Currie

Catherine Currie

Senior Solicitor, Family Law

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Anisha Ali

Anisha Ali

Trainee Solicitor

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