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International Families: UK Court Refuses Divorce.

Press reports today suggest that after legal battles spanning a number of years and several counties, former aide to Gordon Brown, Afsana Lachaux has been refused a divorce in England and Wales.

It is reported that the couple, Afsana and her ex-husband Bruno had been locked in a legal battle regarding which country should rightly adjudicate on the divorce and matters arising from the breakdown of the marriage, including the financial settlement, and the arrangements for their son.

The issues had previously been addressed in Dubai and the UAE, with the marriage purportedly brought to an end in Dubai several years ago, and ‘residence’ of their son being awarded to Bruno.  Afsana sought to argue in the High Court here during a 4-day hearing that she had been coerced in the foreign proceedings and that for a number of reasons they should not stand.  Mr Justice Mostyn refused the application, and upheld the earlier proceedings in Dubai as valid and recognisable.

The issue of which country is used to adjudicate on matters flowing from the end of a marriage is one which faces may international families.  International family law can be very complicated and technical.  It is not unusual for a family to have the ability to litigate in more than one country, and a decision has to be made about which country is the most appropriate.  There are many factors which are taken into consideration in making that decision including what law will be applied and what the outcome will be for each party, the complexity and costs of proceedings in each country, the location of assets and enforceability of orders made and convenience to the parties for participating in the proceedings.  Where jurisdiction is not agreed, as here, the matter of jurisdiction can be considered as a preliminary issue.  Jurisdictional disputes can however take significant time to resolve and can sometimes be as costly, if not more so, than the main litigation, and a decision must always therefore be made as to whether it is a proportionate use of time and money.  There has been at least one reported case of the jurisdictional argument costing over £1m in fees, in circumstances where the Judge considered the difference as between how the 2 countries would address matters to be relatively minor.

According to reports of the proceedings, both parties came in for criticism of their behaviour, with the Judge finding that Afsana had been untruthful in some of her accounts, but that her husband had also accessed private information including text messages and emails and been untruthful about doing so.  After weighing up the evidence given by both, the Judge was satisfied the proceedings in Dubai had been fair and valid and as such, should be upheld, with subsequent English proceedings dismissed.

One of the central issues in dispute was whether the child of the marriage had been moved lawfully as between the UK and Dubai and whether he had been allowed to have a relationship with both parents.  The Judge indicated that whilst on the evidence he was satisfied that their son was in Dubai legally, it was important he was able to have a meaningful relationship with his mother and sanctions could flow if that does not take place. 

The case raises many issues which face international families when a family unit breaks down.  Whilst it is rare for litigation to continue for as many years, or across jurisdictions in the way the Lachaux case has, even litigation at a much less intense level can be stressful for all concerned.  Early advice about the available options and the differing approaches can assist.  There are also specialist mediation services who can assist international families address the issues they face with a view to minimising contentious litigation.

Anyone faced with international family issues, whether international divorce, finances, arrangements for children, relocation of abduction should access specialist advice as soon as possible.  To speak to a specialist international family lawyer at JMW please call on 0800-652-5577 or email.

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