High Court declines jurisdiction in long-running cross-Channel divorce

Divorce|February 3rd 2016

The High Court has dismissed a divorce petition filed in England by the estranged wife of an expatriate living in France.

E v E concerned a British couple who had lived in across the Channel for nine years, before finally separating in 2011. The husband launched divorce proceedings in the French courts but later that year the wife and children moved back to the UK.

The following year, the French courts ruled that they had jurisdiction to hear the case, under EU regulation 2201/2003. Commonly known as Brussels II Revised, this determines precedence in family cases involving more than one member state.

The mother applied for the case to proceed in England, based on the fact that she was living here by that point. But she and the couple’s children had been habitually resident (resident for legal purposes) in France at the time the husband’s divorce proceedings were first launched. The wife’s application was dismissed by the French family courts.

The couple were then invited the couple to formally apply for dissolution of their marriage with an assignation en divorce (divorce summons). Under French law, this must be filed within 30 months.

The husband did so in May last year but the wife did not. Instead she filed a petition for divorce in the English courts a couple of weeks later, after the 30 month deadline had passed. She claimed she was unaware that the husband had already filed his assignation. Her lawyers had made enquiries in the French courts she explained, but done so before the filing.

Not long afterwards the French summons was served on the wife and the English courts were asked to rule on whether or not the wife’s divorce petition should be allowed to proceed.

Sitting in the High Court Mr Justice Moylan concluded that it should not. He declared:

“I consider that I should decline jurisdiction by dismissing the wife’s petition. In my view, the court should not encourage, and should actively discourage, the tactical filing of a second set of proceedings in England when the jurisdiction of the court of another Member State has been established.”

Read the report here.

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