It’s easy to see the appeal of moving abroad. Getting away from the rains of England and settling in the sun is a very tempting prospect for a lot of people. Job opportunities and rates of pay may be considerably higher or the value of your income may stretch further in a foreign country.
Millions of Brits have set up homes in other nations, concentrating only on the upside, and rarely giving much thought to the legal system which operates in their new country. They blithely assume it will be the same, probably not knowing too much about what happens in England either.
To me, a lawyer who has witnessed a great deal (and my firm has probably handled over 13,000 cases in the last thirty odd years), I’d go nowhere before I had a sensible, legal answer to one question: what happens if the marriage breaks down and you’re living abroad?
Take heart: it probably won’t, but you never know. 42 per cent of married couples do divorce. So what would happen if it occurred while you are abroad but your family and friends are back home? What would the likely outcome be? Could you return home with the children? Would the financial settlement still be the same? How would it all work out in reality? People don’t consider something so upsetting when they’re planning a life in paradise but, if one spouse wants out, what happens next?
Divorce law is different in every country. There is no other system in the world which operates the same as it does in England and Wales. Even getting a divorce is different, the process is different and the reasons for divorce are different. So it is vital to understand what you would be getting yourself in for if your marriage should break down while you live abroad.
In England, first of all proceedings are, unsurprisingly, conducted in English. Don’t underestimate this. Legal jargon is difficult enough, without it being in a different language.
It is possible in England and Wales for one parent to leave the country with permission of the court, to return home with the children. In other countries it will almost never legally happen and a mother could be literally “stuck” – or she leaves her children in the foreign country and returns home alone.
Finances are handled very differently too and so are the outcomes. In England and Wales, there is no strict division, rather a fair and reasonable settlement applies including both income and capital. In other countries there may be a simple clean break, with no ongoing income requirement. There are very strict disclosure requirements in England and the procedure is strictly timetabled. This may not be the case in other countries where it could drag on for much longer, at greater expense, and you never get to the bottom of what you are both truly worth. Going through a divorce in another country could easily leave you vulnerable and ruin your the life you originally planned when you left England.
If you are living abroad and feel like a divorce is imminent, timing is always and absolutely the key. Wherever proceedings are first issued within the EU is where they will be heard. Don’t act quickly enough, and it could be very costly. In non EU countries, the courts have a choice about where the case will be heard.
This is where taking legal advice, preferably before you go, is essential. It would also be wise to enter into a post nuptial agreement which is enforceable in both countries. Often it will be necessary for an English lawyer to work with the foreign lawyer to obtain the best outcome. As a Fellow of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (IAML) this is straightforward for me and my firm. The IAML is represented in most countries in the world.
I am asked questions on this subject, and other areas of divorce law, on a regular basis. The most frequently asked questions from our readers inspired me to produce a series of divorce advice videos like the one on this page. If you have a question, maybe they will help or write to me on my blog and I will do my best to reply.