We look at the reasons behind the fashion for high-profile international divorce cases to be disputed in courts in England and Wales, and discover how this could change the way you divorce too

There have been a number of instances reported in the news of wealthy international couples choosing to divorce in England and Wales instead of in their home countries. This happened in the case of the divorcing Dubai ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, believed to be one of the largest settlements in the history of UK divorces.

England and Wales have become the preferred destinations for international divorces due to the numerous advantages it offers compared to other countries. The legal systems in England and Wales grant judges greater discretion, and their starting point of ensuring equality is not always mirrored in other jurisdictions.

If you and your spouse did not marry in England or Wales, or if neither of you currently resides there, you may be wondering whether you can pursue a divorce here.

To initiate a divorce in England or Wales, you must meet specific criteria, and the courts must have ‘jurisdiction,’ which means they have the authority to handle your divorce. If you meet their legal requirements, you can proceed with a divorce application in England or Wales, even if you do not currently live here or did not marry here.Annique Sampson, Family Law solicitor

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

Several conditions must be satisfied for you to be eligible for a divorce in England or Wales, specifically:

  • You must have been married for a minimum of one year; attempting to divorce before completing a year of marriage will result in the courts rejecting your application.
  • Your marriage has broken down irretrievably. It may be advisable to explore couples counselling before reaching this conclusion. In most cases, attempting mediation is a prerequisite before being granted a divorce. However, there are exceptions to this requirement, and our legal team can provide guidance in such situations.
  • Your marriage must be legally recognised in England or Wales, regardless of where it originally occurred. Ensuring such recognition can be intricate, and if you have any doubts, it is essential to seek expert legal counsel, as unrecognized marriages in England or Wales can have significant implications. In general, for a marriage to be acknowledged, it should have been lawful in the country where it took place, both spouses must have possessed the capacity to enter into the marriage, and any previous marriages should have been formally dissolved before the current one. This stipulation can affect certain religious ceremonies, particularly within the UK. For instance, if you’re a Muslim and undergo a marriage ceremony under Sharia Law in the UK, it will not be legally recognized in England or Wales. Furthermore, if your marriage certificate is not in English, a certified translation will be necessary for court proceedings.
  • Jurisdiction is determined, and this can be demonstrated through five distinct methods, which are:
    • both spouses have their habitual residence in England or Wales;
    • your spouse has habitual residence in England or Wales.
    • both spouses are domiciled in England or Wales;
    • you are habitually resident in England or Wales, having resided here for a minimum of one year; or
    • you are domiciled and habitually resident in England or Wales, having lived here for at least six months.

How does it change things if I have lived abroad?

If you have lived or currently live abroad, you must establish jurisdiction in England or Wales to pursue a divorce in this jurisdiction. If your spouse resides in England or in Wales, you fulfill the jurisdiction requirements. However, if neither you nor your spouse lives in this country, you must demonstrate that both of you live there.

The term ‘domicile’ lacks a legal statutory definition but typically refers to the country where you have your strongest connections, including your permanent residence, legal matters, and tax affairs. If you are uncertain about your domicile status, it is crucial that you seek legal advice for clarification.

What if my spouse wants to apply for a divorce abroad?

Couples who lead an ‘international lifestyle’ may be able to initiate their divorce proceedings in more than one country. However, if your spouse takes the first step and files for divorce abroad before you do in England or in Wales, you may lose your opportunity to file here.

This delay could result in significant costs for you. So it’s vital that you get on with your divorce process. If you have a choice of jurisdictions where you can initiate your divorce, seeking early guidance from a seasoned family lawyer is of utmost importance.

How Cunningtons Family Law can help

Our family law specialists can provide you with guidance on the available options and the types of court orders available to you. We can assess the various avenues open to you, taking into account not only the financial implications but also the potential court orders related to where your children will live, as well as the enforcement of orders 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 Annique Sampson in the family law team on 01376 326 868 or email

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.

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