Domicile and expat divorce

Divorce|July 13th 2016

In this new extract from her book ‘Divorce & Splitting Up: Advice from a Top Divorce Lawyer’, Marilyn explains the concept of domicile and how it relates to divorce amongst expatriates.

Domicile is a peculiar concept and found only in England. You are born with a “domicile of origin”, which you inherit from your father. To obtain a different domicile, you need to sever all your links with your country and put down roots in the new one.

Couples leave the UK for different reasons. Some can afford to give up work and retire. Some move for work. Lower rates of tax are a major draw, especially for the wealthy. In the majority of cases, marriage breakdown occurs after the move, rather than before it.

Unfortunately, in my experience there are sometimes “darker motives” behind a permanent relocation to sunny climes. It is not unknown for husbands to encourage a move abroad as part of a strategy to divorce in the most financially advantageous way possible. On occasion, the hard-heartedness that has gone into the planning and executing of such a plot is scarcely credible. The family moves abroad, the marriage ends – and many wives, when they do not know to whom they can turn, are left stranded. Often they are middle-aged women with teenage children, who have devoted their lives to their families and who are now left shocked and destitute.

Expat cases have their own emotional, legal and financial flashpoints. When marriages and relationships disintegrate overseas, the idyll of a wonderful lifestyle is rudely shattered. Far away from friends and relatives, with no comprehension of local laws and a shaky grasp of the language, and with a desire for things to stay as they are in the face of fast moving change around them, what is to be done?

Typically, I find that a spouse with a game plan consults English divorce lawyers before the family leaves the UK, rather than afterwards. He learns that English divorce law requires a full and frank disclosure of his financial position under oath, and that his wife is entitled to a fair, but potentially expensive settlement. To avoid a hefty claim, he may hotfoot it to the nearest local lawyer in the new country of residence and issue divorce proceedings as soon as the relevant residence criteria have been established.

Divorce & Splitting Up: Advice From A Top Divorce Lawyer is available for just 99p.

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

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  1. Elena says:

    The phrase “English divorce law requires a full and frank disclosure of his financial position under oath, and that his wife is entitled to a fair, but potentially expensive settlement” is spot on. The morale is: if you are British Citizens and your assets are in the UK, never file for divorce in foreign countries even if it appears “cheaper”, it is simply a “false economy”.

    • Luke says:

      Well Elena fair is a matter of opinion – but I think there is a general agreement that it is potentially expensive so ‘morale’ is indeed likely to be low 🙂
      Frankly the moral for somebody who has already decided on this course of action is more likely to be – “Get your assets out of the UK” !

  2. Andrew says:

    Unless you are the English lawyer whom the husband consults how do you know it happens?

    I see nothing wrong in the idea that if a couple have in fact moved abroad and acquired a domicile in Ruritania the law of Ruritania and no other should govern their divorce. And vice versa if they have moved here.

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