How Do You Divorce a Spouse Who Is in a Foreign Country UK

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Divorcing a spouse who lives in a foreign country can be a complex and emotionally taxing process. In the UK, particularly in England and Wales, there are specific regulations and considerations to be aware of when initiating divorce proceedings with a spouse residing in another country. 

This article will explore where to initiate the divorce, the UK regulations governing such cases, the concepts of habitual residence and domicile, and more. 

Where Should I Initiate the Divorce?

Deciding where to initiate divorce proceedings is one of the first and most crucial steps when your spouse resides in a foreign country. The choice of jurisdiction can greatly influence the divorce process, from the division of assets to custody arrangements and the duration of the proceedings.

The legal framework in England and Wales offers a fair and comprehensive approach to handling international divorces, but considering other jurisdictions may also have strategic benefits.

Before proceeding, it is essential to seek legal advice to understand your rights and obligations under the laws of England and Wales and those of the foreign countries involved. Consulting with UK divorce solicitors with expertise in international family law is advisable to navigate the complexities of dual jurisdictions effectively. 

They can offer guidance on whether it is more advantageous for you to file for divorce in England and Wales or elsewhere based on the specifics of your case, such as the ease of enforcing court orders, the speed of the process, and the potential outcomes in different legal systems.

UK Regulation for Divorcing a Spouse Who is in a Foreign Country

UK law under the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973 (DMPA 1973) outlines clear criteria for English and Welsh courts to take jurisdiction over a divorce case when one spouse is abroad. Here’s a straightforward breakdown of when you can file for divorce in England and Wales:

  1. Both Habitually Resident: If both spouses were last living together in England or Wales, and one still lives there, you can initiate a divorce.
  2. Respondent’s Residence: The courts have jurisdiction if the divorced spouse (respondent) lives in England and Wales.
  3. Joint Application: If filing together, at least one spouse must live in England and Wales.
  4. Applicant’s Residence: If you’ve lived in England and Wales for at least a year before filing, you can start divorce proceedings.
  5. Domicile and Residence: The courts will have jurisdiction if you’re domiciled and have lived in England and Wales for at least six months before applying.
  6. Domicile: If either spouse is domiciled in England and Wales, you can apply for divorce here.

Check out: Civil Partnership Dissolution: Insights from Divorce Lawyers

Understanding Habitual Residence and Domicile

Understanding the concepts of habitual residence and domicile is crucial in international divorce proceedings. These legal terms help determine which country’s courts have jurisdiction over a divorce case.

Habitual Residence

Habitual residence means the country where a person has their primary and permanent home. To be considered habitually resident, a person must have a significant degree of settled purpose from the facts of their life. This includes where they live, work, and have family ties.

It is an exclusive status, meaning a person can only be habitually resident in one country at any given time, though this can change if they move their life’s focus to another country.

A court determining habitual residence will look at various factors such as where the person owns property, where they receive their mail, the main language spoken in their household, and where their children attend school. The individual’s centre of interest must be clear and demonstrable if their habitual residence is questioned.

Domicile Explained

Domicile is a slightly broader concept that indicates a person’s legal relationship with a particular jurisdiction. It is often tied to where a person has their permanent home, but it also considers their intent to maintain or change this home base.

There are several types of domicile:

  • Domicile of Origin: Assigned at birth, typically derived from a parent.
  • Domicile of Choice: Acquired by moving to a new country to live there permanently or indefinitely.
  • Domicile of Dependence: This applies to those legally dependent on another, such as children, whose domicile changes with the person upon whom they depend.

Like habitual residence, a person can only have one domicile at a time. Still, it can change based on new circumstances or choices, especially when adults decide to move and settle in a new country permanently.

Habitual residence and domicile are vital in determining jurisdiction for divorce proceedings, especially when one spouse lives in a foreign country. Understanding and proving these can be complex, and it’s advisable to consult with a family law solicitor who can provide clarity and guidance based on the specifics of your situation. 

Related: How Long Does It Take for Divorce Papers to Be Served UK?

Financial Claim in a Foreign Divorce

When divorcing a spouse who lives in a foreign country, you are entitled to make the same financial claims as you would in a domestic divorce.

These claims encompass various financial arrangements, such as lump sum cash payments, sale or transfer of real estate and stocks between spouses, pension division, and maintenance payments from one spouse to the other.

The English courts are equipped to make orders relating to assets both within the UK and abroad. However, when assets are located overseas, it’s essential to consider the practical aspects of enforcement.

If your spouse fails to comply with a court order involving an asset abroad, enforcing that order can be more complex and require additional legal strategies and considerations.

Let Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors Help You

Handling an international divorce requires expertise in dealing with complex cross-border legal issues. Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors specialise in the complexity of divorcing a spouse based in a foreign country. Our skilled team offers comprehensive legal support, ensuring your rights are upheld across various jurisdictions.

We manage all aspects of the process, from filing the divorce petition to securing financial claims and enforcing court orders internationally. Our approach is customised to your unique situation, providing strategic advice to optimise your outcomes and reduce stress. 

Contact us today, and let us guide you through every step of your international divorce with confidence and professional insight.


Yes, you can still obtain a divorce in England if your spouse lives abroad, as long as you meet certain criteria, such as habitual residence or domicile in England and Wales, ensuring the courts have jurisdiction over your case.

For a divorce to be recognized in England and Wales, it must adhere to the divorce laws specific to this jurisdiction, ensuring all legal standards and procedures are properly followed.

In most cases, attending court is necessary to finalise a divorce in England or Wales, though some procedural aspects may be handled remotely depending on the complexity and specifics of the divorce case.

Yes, foreign nationals can initiate divorce proceedings in the UK, provided they are residents of England and Wales and meet the legal requirements for jurisdiction.

Being domiciled in England or Wales qualifies you to file for divorce there, as domicile is a key factor that courts consider when establishing jurisdiction in divorce cases.

England and Wales handle international divorces by applying laws that consider habitual residence, domicile, and other connections to the jurisdiction, ensuring fair and legal processing of cross-border divorce cases.

Ask our Expert Legal Team

At Gulbenkian Andonian, we pride ourselves on “Excellence, Experience and Efficiency”. With over 35 years of experience on your side, our team of London based lawyers and solicitors have a wealth of experience advising individuals, families and businesses of all sizes to find clarity on UK law.

Call us on +44 (0) 207 269 9590 or fill out the form below. We usually reply within a few hours.

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