A guide to international divorce or dissolution

Money Advice Service

If you have a connection to a different part of the UK to where you currently live, or to another country outside of the UK, you might be able to start your divorce or dissolution proceedings there. Where you start proceedings could affect how your finances are divided.

Understanding the basics of international divorce or dissolution

If you or your ex-partner (husband, wife or civil partner) decides to start divorce or dissolution proceedings outside of the country you currently live in, what you do next will depend on whether they start:

  • In another nation within the UK,
  • Elsewhere in the European Union (EU), or
  • In a non-EU country.

Divorcing or dissolving your civil partnership in other parts of the UK

The system for divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership in England and Wales is slightly different to the one in Northern Ireland, and quite different to the Scottish system.

If you start proceedings in another part of the UK to where you currently live, you’ll have to consider how this might affect your financial settlement.

Divorcing or dissolving your civil partnership in the EU

The ‘first in time’ system means that as long as you have the legal right to get divorced or dissolve your civil partnership in that EU country, and provided that you are the first member of the couple to start proceedings, that’s where they will take place.

Under EU law, you might have the right to get divorced or dissolve your civil partnership in a different EU country to the one where you married or registered your civil partnership.

But you will have to act quickly because of what’s known as the ‘first in time’ system in the EU.

Divorcing or dissolving your civil partnership in a non-EU country

If you or your ex-partner has a connection with a non-EU country, then where you’re able to divorce or dissolve your civil partnership will depend on a range of factors.

The main one will be which country has the closest connection with you both.

How your divorce or dissolution location can affect your settlement

The law in some countries means that financial assets are divided very differently to the way they’re split in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

In Scotland, only what’s called ‘matrimonial property’, which broadly means assets owned or acquired during the marriage or civil partnership, is taken into account.

In some countries outside the UK, separating couples don’t have to tell each other about their financial assets during divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership.

Prenuptial agreements are still relatively uncommon.

They are often used by couples who want to agree – before they marry or become civil partners – how they would divide their:

  • Money;
  • Assets, and
  • Property

Should they decide to separate.

They have an unusual legal status in that they are not fully legally enforceable in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

However, courts will generally take them into account as one of the circumstances of the case and will give significant weight to them provided certain safeguards have been met.

For example:

  • The financial needs of the children are adequately take care of.1
  • Both parties had taken legal advice on the implications of entering into the agreement.

In Scotland, they are treated as being legally enforceable.

Establishing where you can divorce or dissolve your civil partnership

Working out whether you have the legal right to start a divorce or dissolution in a particular country can be a complicated business.

It’s normally a better idea to take advice from a solicitor who specialises in this rather than to try and work it out for yourself.

It could be influenced by where:

  • You were born.
  • Where you own property.
  • Your mother or father was born or lived.
  • You married or registered your civil partnership.
  • You live now and during your marriage or civil partnership.

Deciding what to do next

You should seek legal advice from specialist family law solicitors.

They should know the laws in the country where you live and the country where your divorce or dissolution proceedings could start.

Do this before negotiating with your ex-partner or before exploring mediation with them.

This is because the risk of losing control of where you decide to start proceedings can have serious implications.

But be aware that this will make it much harder to reach an amicable agreement with your ex-partner.

Pros:

  • you will know whether you can get divorced or dissolve your civil partnership outside the country you now live in
  • you will know what the consequences of getting divorced or dissolving your civil partnership in another country could be

Cons:

  • you are likely to antagonise your husband, wife or civil partner by starting divorce or dissolution proceedings without giving them any warning
  • it could be much harder to reach a financial settlement as a result

In England or Wales, you can find a solicitor on the Resolution website or the Law Society website.

In Northern Ireland, you can find a solicitor on the Law Society of Northern Ireland website.

In Scotland, you can find a solicitor on the Family Law Association website or the Law Society of Scotland website.

Your next step

This article is provided by the Money Advice Service.

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