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When a divorce nightmare shatters golden dreams

‘A last desperate hope’ from far flung shores

A few weeks ago I attended my niece’s wedding at Ronit Farm near Tel Aviv, Israel. Although the bride, groom and all their respective families were born and brought up in Leeds, Yorkshire, they chose to celebrate their marriage under a canopy (called a ‘Chuppah’) in the traditional Jewish way rather than in a local Synagogue or hotel back home.

The turn out was tremendous. Guests comprised the young and not so young and the golden couple were supported by over 100 of their glamorous ‘twenty-something’ friends. It was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful ceremonies I have ever seen. The setting was stunning and truly romantic, with the bride and groom tying the knot at sunset in the open air against the glorious backdrop of a lake lit by torches. The fragrant and spectacular flowers including rose petals were strewn along the aisle and the music was magical.

The cosmopolitan nature of the guests enhanced the enjoyment with independent and confident like-minded world travellers jetting in to the Middle East to party hard and celebrate the wedding. Dancing almost to dawn, the ladies jettisoned their stilettos for flip flops that my sister as a perfect Mother of the Bride, had thoughtfully provided for everyone!

Career-wise, the bride and groom and many of their friends hail from the medical profession. It also appeared that most of the famous London and US firms were unknowingly well-represented at the wedding and there was an eclectic mix of cultural backgrounds. I noticed one impossibly handsome French accountant (who could have missed him?!) who is currently training with KPMG in Paris. His English girlfriend lives and works in London and they commute to see each other – they make a stunning couple. Many of the Greek, English and Israeli guests are temporarily based in London. Most spoke excitedly about their jobs, which they regard as firmly transnational – because their careers are giving them golden opportunities to travel, work abroad, and, if necessary, to live abroad. All the guests, including a British Airways pilot who had jetted in with his wife, an optometrist, acknowledged that they are privileged to be maximising such wonderful opportunities.

However a stark contrast to the idyll I had been lucky to attend came in an email last week via my contact page, from an English woman who has started a new life and family in her husband’s country in the Far East.

She had trustingly handed her husband the proceeds of her previous divorce settlement, a six figure sum, when they married, and everything is now in his name. The children have always lived in his country, and all the finances and assets are in that country. The marriage had broken down due to his infidelity and cruelty to her, and she has spent the last 12 months searching in vain for a lawyer to represent her. She has found no-one and although I am a Fellow of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and I have checked the register of members, there is no family lawyer who is a member of the IAML in that country.

This woman wrote to me as a “last desperate hope” of help but even if I could help her, (and I could bring her within the jurisdiction of an English court) it would be a lengthy, expensive and ultimately pyrrhic victory. There would be no way she could hope to enforce an English judgment against her husband in his country, if as I expect, he simply chose to ignore it. And the financial aspect ignores the problem of the children, and where they will live and with whom. She wrote that “I thought I could just take them with me if I left him” when in fact she can’t, not least without starting a battle which could end up with the children being returned from wherever she took them, and her possibly never seeing them again.

What this woman needs, and what perhaps may be almost impossible, is a negotiated settlement in his country, with her fully understanding that she cannot expect to obtain an order on the same terms as an English court would give her. It is a situation to which she freely admits she gave little thought when she first met and fell in love with her future husband, then married him, then had his children and gave him all her money – retaining nothing for herself.

This is a very extreme case, but it is an indicator that the decision to leave English shores for love may be fraught with real difficulty. Had I been advising her before her marriage, as a lawyer, I would have warned her of the pitfalls. I will warn of those pitfalls and how to protect against them in my next post.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known family law solicitors and divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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