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Eri Horrocks discusses top tips for international families on divorce

  • March 15, 2021
  • By Eri Horrocks, Senior Associate

Divorce is a complex process to navigate and this is particularly true for international families. It’s important to be aware of the legal issues which arise, so that you can take steps to protect your interests.

  1. If you married abroad, check your marriage is recognised in the UK. Generally, foreign marriages are recognised if they complied with the legal requirements of the country in which you married and you each had capacity to marry. Whilst it’s most likely that your marriage will be recognised, if there is any uncertainty take early advice, as it will impact whether you can apply for a divorce here, or whether you would need to seek other remedies.
  2. If you have connections to more than one country, speak to lawyers in each country to find out whether you would be able to get divorced there, and if so, whether the approach of the courts in that country to financial settlements on divorce is likely to be advantageous to you. We can connect you to specialist advisors in many different countries.
  3. If you are the party seeking to have assets transferred to you, also consider where the assets are located, and take advice on whether a foreign divorce settlement would be enforceable in that country. There’s limited benefit in securing a generous order if it cannot be enforced.
  4. Once you have decided, in consultation with your legal advisors, on your preferred jurisdiction for divorce proceedings, you may need to act quickly to start proceedings – if your spouse issues proceedings first in a different jurisdiction, that could determine where the proceedings will take place.
  5. In English divorce proceedings, both parties have to give full disclosure of all of their financial assets, including any assets held overseas, and these will be taken into account in determining the overall settlement. It can be important to take local valuation and tax advice, to ensure that an accurate net value is used by the court, and to take local legal advice so that you are aware of any restrictions on the sale or transfer of the property.
  6. If the English court is concerned that an order in respect of a foreign asset would not be complied with, it can structure the settlement so that assets within the jurisdiction are transferred and balanced out against assets abroad. Similarly, the English court cannot make an order sharing a foreign pension, but it can take them into account when considering how to divide the other assets.
  7. If you are concerned that your spouse may transfer assets abroad to put them out of the English court’s reach, then it is possible to apply for a “freezing order” on an emergency basis to prevent this from happening.
  8. Following the breakdown of a marriage of an international family, one party often wants to relocate. If you have children, this can be complex. It is important not to move children abroad without your spouse’s agreement or a court order, as this may be child abduction, which is a criminal offence. The UK is also a member of the 1980 Hague Convention, an international agreement for the swift return of abducted children.
  9. Applications seeking the court’s permission to move children abroad are known as “leave to remove” applications. The court’s paramount concern is the child’s welfare so the party proposing the move will need to explain to the court why it is in the child’s best interests, and will be expected to have prepared detailed proposals regarding every aspect of the child’s life including education, living arrangements, contact with the other parent, cultural needs etc.
  10. If court hearings are needed to resolve arrangements for your children, and English is not your first language, you can ask the court to provide an interpreter. In hearings on other issues, you may need to pay for your own interpreter. It is important that you can fully participate and understand what is happening in the hearing so do not hesitate to make enquiries about this. 

I am experienced in working with international families and speak fluent Japanese and am proficient in Italian. If you have any queries about any of these tips or any other issues arising on divorce then please contact me on Eri.Horrocks@hunterslaw.com or +44 (0)20 7412 5185.

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