International Divorce

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International Divorce Solicitors

Where to Divorce

For the international community, the expatriate, and even those contemplating marriage, the most important decision that they will make is where to divorce, if they must.

Different countries take different approaches to the division of matrimonial wealth.
England and Wales are at the far end of the global generous scale, when it comes to recognising the entitlement and needs of the economically less advantaged spouse.

The right to divorce in England and Wales is dependent on whether you fit into one of the following categories:

  1. Where both spouses are habitually resident in England and Wales.
  2. Where both spouses were last habitually resident and one of them still resides in England and Wales.
  3. Where the respondent is habitually resident in England and Wales. 
  4. Where in the event of a joint application, either of the spouses is habitually resident in England and Wales.
  5. Where the applicant is habitually resident in England and Wales, having resided in England and Wales for at least a year immediately before the application for divorce was made.
  6. Where the applicant is habitually resident in England and Wales, having resided there for at least six months immediately before the application was made, and is also domiciled in England and Wales.
  7. Where either or both spouses are domiciled in England and Wales.

For international and expatriate families membership of this exclusive club comes with significant benefits. Small fortunes have been spent trying to get in or be kept out, and the arguments revolve around the terms Domicile, Habitual Residence and Residence. Very simply, Domicile is something that you are born with and is hard to shake off, whilst Habitual Residence is something that can be established with time, effort and association.

So important is this subject that there is no substitute for legal advice.

The following are links to some of the more important historic court cases where the issue of “Jurisdiction” featured:

When to Divorce

The simple answer is, always, first.

Under the existing European law, the first in time to issue a divorce process at court “wins”, and from then on all issues regarding the termination of the marriage, finances and, in some cases, children, will be decided.

Between England and Wales and other non- European countries the situation is more complex, with the possibility of competing jurisdictions, regardless of who is first in time.

The expression “Forum Shopping” has been widely used as a pejorative description of the possibility of competing divorce jurisdictions, where the weaker economic party to the marriage seeks the safest and most generous haven.

Urgent legal advice is a necessity and failing to act promptly disastrous. 


  1. Take early specialist legal advice in all possible jurisdictions.
  2. Be alert to any jurisdictional transition by your spouse.
  3. Do not wait.
  4. It is possible for a poor jurisdictional case to be improved or “polished”, with time and dedication, into a strong one.
    Post-nuptial agreements can take the sting out of the risk of the international movement of families.


One of the UK’s leading experts and practitioners on divorces in the GCC with wide experience of jurisdictional disputes in the region, and wider MEMA.

  • Assisting numerous UAE citizens and expatriates in “choice of law” decisions and disputes.
  • Complex Omani family proceedings in London.
  • Advising Kuwaiti family in multi-jurisdictional proceedings involving inter-generational wealth.
  • Representing a wife in proceedings between England, Switzerland, and France with assets exceeding £500m.
  • Advising Citizens of KSA in matrimonial proceedings and pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements.
  • Advising a client in respect of matrimonial proceedings in Massachusetts, a stud farm and worldwide assets.
  • Advising and representing clients in respect of contesting the jurisdictional basis of Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 claims.

Michael Rowlands is a fellow of the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and has been representing international families for over 30 years, with a particular connection with The UAE, MENA Region, North America, Japan, Switzerland and Monaco.

Talk to us

If you require further information or advice from our team of expert family lawyers, please contact a member of our team by calling us on 0345 872 6666. Alternatively you can complete our online enquiry form and we will be in touch as soon as possible.