Getting married abroad? Know your rights

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June 29, 2016

Senior Partner Marilyn Stowe appeared on St Albans’ Radio Verulam this morning to answer listeners’ questions about various aspects of family law, including adultery, child maintenance and Las Vegas weddings.

One of the listeners had concerns about getting married in the US in an ‘Elvis’ styled wedding in Las Vegas and was not sure if the ceremony would be legally recognised in the UK. Marilyn suggested that this would be perfectly legal but advised that anyone thinking of getting married abroad or in a bizarre ceremony look at the Marriage Act 1949.

Another listener was considering a divorce from his wealthy wife and wanted to know if he would be entitled to half of her substantial property portfolio. Mrs Stowe explained that all assets will be considered when the settlement is made.


My husband is having an affair but I can’t prove it so far. He has drained our bank account and all assets are in his name. He will only give me some cash each week to live on. I feel trapped, what can I do to divorce him and get out of this situation?

I think that, from what this lady said, her marriage has irretrievably broken down and this is quite a common thing where somebody tries to force their partner into actually taking the first step. That is what I think this guy is trying to do. I think she has got to step back and think, well is this marriage irretrievably broken down and if it is, which it sounds like it is, then she has got to be brave. She has got to get herself a good lawyer, and I would say that wouldn’t I, but that is what she actually needs. Then she should divorce him. She doesn’t need to worry about proving adultery. People get very hung up about adultery but really, it is not necessary. She can divorce on the basis of his unreasonable behaviour. The court does not expect people to go into great reams of stuff, just bullet points. The other thing she needs to do is sort out her interim maintenance requirements. That means how she is going to manage until there is a final settlement and then a financial settlement. If he has drained the bank account, if he is trying to get rid of assets, one thing that she and her lawyer clearly need to think about is protecting assets until the case is resolved. I come across quite a few lawyers who don’t seem to realise the importance of immediate protection of assets. It is important. So, go and get yourself a really good lawyer and get on with it. I think it is him trying to push her into it because a lot of people feel quite guilty. They don’t really want to just take that final step and it makes them feel better if their partner does it. Then they can say, “well, I didn’t do it…”

My boyfriend and I have split up. He split up with his wife several years ago but wants me to pay his child maintenance because I have paid nothing toward the mortgage on the property he bought that we have lived in for 14 years. Should I refuse the deal?

This is interesting actually because when you live with somebody, as I think we have said many times on this programme, you do not have legal obligations and responsibilities to each other. You have no legal relationship at all. So, if he is suggesting for one minute that you should pay child support for the child of his ex-wife and himself, well, dream on, mate. What she should also remember is, and I assume that this is what has happened here, this property what they are living in might well be owned in joint names. This is something for people who are thinking of buying a property jointly with someone they are not going to marry. If you buy a property in joint names and there is no declaration of trust saying that it is going to be owned anything other than 50/50 then it is 99.9 per cent certain, and there are just very tiny, very complicated reasons why not, but 99.9 per cent certain it will be divided 50/50. So, if she owns that property jointly with him, she can insist on her half share and furthermore, she is perfectly entitled to say “no, I am not paying anything towards the support of your child”.

Myself and my fiancée used to be involved in criminal activity and both have a criminal record.  Will this prevent us from being married?

I don’t think so. I doubt it. Unless of course the criminal activity is getting married to somebody else first and then wanting to get married. So, on the face of it, I don’t think a criminal record will stop you from getting married.

I want to separate and divorce my wife. She has a property portfolio across Europe, substantial shares and a healthy savings account. Can I claim half of this? Do I have to declare my own assets?

Well, this guy who has written in said she has a property portfolio across Europe, substantial shares and a healthy savings account. Can he claim half? All assets that belong to the parties are available to be shared on divorce. How they will be shared is ultimately a matter for agreement or an order of the court. The court will look at meeting reasonable needs and then will look at the surplus and think, how are we going to sort this out. There are lots of arguments involving cases like this, for example the property might have been acquired before the marriage, therefore, it is not strictly what you call a ‘matrimonial asset’, it hasn’t been earned during the marriage. It might have been gifted. It might be an inheritance. There are lots are arguments about division. What he needs to do, as I said to the first lady, is see a lawyer, get some good advice and also again think of asset preservation. This one is more difficult because it is assets outside England and Wales but there are ways of protecting assets. Some of them can be quite draconian involving injunctions in different countries but he does need to take good legal advice.

My girlfriend and I would like an ‘Elvis’ wedding in Las Vegas! Are these sorts of weddings legally recognised in the US? And is such a marriage ceremony and certificate legally recognised in the UK?

I have been involved in cases where people have had extremely bizarre weddings. I can think of a couple who got married on the edge of the Grand Canyon by an Elvis and they did have a perfectly legal wedding. So, it is possible to have a bizarre kind of wedding, one that you may not have here. I did notice when I was looking on the internet, there is somebody who advertises themselves as Elvis here. Could I suggest that if people are going to think about the basis for a valid marriage here, they take a look at the Marriage Act 1949 and see what the requirements are. The requirements are that the marriage must take place in a register office, approved premises or a place of religious worship that has been officially registered for marriages. There are all sorts of information actually about valid marriages on the UGOV website. I really recommend people have a look at it. You have got to give notice, you have got to be here for a certain amount of time and it is important that you comply. If you are getting married abroad, you must make sure you have got several official copies of the marriage certificate because you may well need to produce that in the future. Unfortunately, if there is a divorce, that is one area that you will need a certified correct copy of the marriage certificate. In Europe, you will probably need two wedding ceremonies; a civil one and a religious one. So please don’t think a religious one is all you need. You may well need a civil ceremony as well.

I wonder how it is going to change when we come out of Europe properly…

I actually don’t think family law is going to change that much. I think it is probably going to be very similar indeed. I don’t anticipate massive change.

The full interview will be available here for a limited time.


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