Can you divorce in the UK if you or your spouse live abroad?

A divorce can be a difficult and complicated time for anyone, but this can be particularly true if one party lives in another country. Many couples are left wondering whether they are still able to get divorced in the UK or whether they will need to navigate the divorce laws of another country. Here, we explain what you are able to do and how to do it.

In a nutshell, if you or your spouse have a sufficient connection with England or Wales then you should be able to apply for divorce here. However, there are several factors that are involved in this which you will need to check in order to make sure that you are eligible.

Connections with England and Wales

If you or your partner are living abroad but want to apply for divorce in England or Wales, then there are certain criteria that you will need to meet in order for this to be permitted. A habitual resident of a country is a resident whose life is mainly based in that country, and so may be working there, sending children to school there or buying property in that country.

If you are domiciled in a country, then you have your main, permanent home there. If your parents are not married then you would normally inherit your mother’s domicile, or you would inherit your father’s if they were married.

You need to be able to prove that you have an adequate connection with the country. This includes: 

  • you being domiciled here when the divorce proceedings begin or 
  • the Respondent (ie the person who did not apply for divorce) being a habitual resident of England or Wales

An adequate connection can also be granted if the Applicant (ie the person who initially applied for the divorce) is habitually resident here and has been residing in England or Wales for at least a year immediately before the application (also known as ‘petition’) is issued.

If the Applicant (previously known as the ‘Petitioner’) is domiciled here, then they will need to have been residing here for a least six months before issuing the petition. Alternatively, if you or your ex were habitually resident in England or Wales last and one of you still leaves here, then you may also be granted permission to apply for divorce in that country.

Many couples think that if they married in England then they can divorce here too, but it is worth remembering that this is not actually the case if neither of you is currently domiciled or resident in the country.

International divorce law

If one of the divorcing couples does live abroad, then there are certain complexities that you need to be aware of. The laws of the EU state that whichever legal system receives the petition first will deal with it, so if you wish to use the English or Welsh courts, you will need to move quickly. If your connection is with a country outside of the EU, then the divorce tends to be granted in the country that the couple has the closest connection to.

If you wish to get divorced outside of the UK, then you need to be sure that you understand the full impact of doing so. Each country will have their own divorce laws, so you need to understand these thoroughly for both the legal and financial implications that they may have.

When it comes to divorcing across international borders, it is important to employ the services of a lawyer who understands the international divorce laws and helps you to find your way through them. Whilst it can be complicated, you may still be entitled to divorce in England or Wales even if one or both of you has ties to another country.


If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to Ask a lawyer.

Nannette Kendrick