Does living abroad stop you getting a UK divorce?

If your marriage breaks down you will want to petition for divorce — but what happens if you’re living overseas?

Can I get a UK divorce if I live abroad?

The simple answer to this question is “yes”, you can get divorced in the UK, even if you currently live overseas. 

But there are certain statutory requirements that must be met to be able to demonstrate that a court in England and Wales has jurisdiction to entertain proceedings for divorce. There are different rules applicable for Scotland.

Below we look at the basis of these jurisdictional requirements under section 5(2) of the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973. Note this is a complex area of law, where expert advice should always be sought from a family law specialist.

What are the jurisdictional requirements?

In order to establish jurisdiction to get divorced in England or Wales, one of the following criteria must apply on the date of application:

  • Both you and your spouse are habitually resident in England and Wales; or 
  • Both you and your spouse were last habitually resident in England and Wales, and one of you continues to live there; or 
  • The person receiving the petition is habitually resident in England and Wales; or 
  • The person issuing the petition is habitually resident in England and Wales, and has resided there for at least the last 12 months; or 
  • The person issuing the petition is domiciled and habitually resident in England and Wales, and has resided there for at least 6 months; or 
  • Both you and your spouse, or either of you, are domiciled in England and Wales.

Domicile is acquired at birth, and is essentially the place where you have, or consider to have, your permanent home, even if you’re not currently living there. This means that you can be domiciled in a different country from the one in which you’re residing, for example, you can be resident in Europe but still domiciled in the UK. However, you can only have one domicile at any given time, where moving to a new country in the long-term, whilst severing all ties with your domicile of origin, may mean that you’ve acquired a new domicile overseas.

Should I get divorced in England and Wales?

Divorce laws differ around the world, where the financial outcome in some countries may be more likely to favour either you or your spouse, depending on your circumstances.

In addition to the types of financial orders that the court is likely to make, the country in which you divorce can also have a significant impact on other important factors, such as the costs involved, the length of time it takes to get divorced, any arrangements for children, and how easy it is to enforce orders made by the court.

It can therefore be best to seek legal advice at the earliest possible opportunity, in this way allowing you to explore the benefits and drawbacks of your jurisdictional options, not least before your spouse issues proceedings first. Becoming embroiled in a forum dispute can be costly and time-consuming, which is highly unlikely to be in anyone’s best interests.

Legal disclaimer

The matters contained herein are intended to be for general information purposes only. This post does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law in England and Wales and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its’ accuracy, and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should always be sought.


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