Can I get a divorce in England or Wales if I married abroad or now live abroad?
In order to be able to get a divorce in England and Wales:
your marriage must have been lawful in the country where it took place, and
you need to have been married for at least 1 year
This means that you may be able to get a divorce in England or Wales even if you married abroad. For more information on applying for a divorce in England and Wales, read The divorce process.
That being said, you or your spouse typically need to have a sufficient connection with England or Wales to 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.
The requirement to have a connection with England and Wales
If you or your partner are living abroad but want to apply for divorce in England or Wales, there are specific criteria that you will need to meet in order for this to be permitted.
What is habitual residence and what is domicile?
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 there.
If you are domiciled in a country, then you have your main, permanent home there. If your parents were not married, then you would normally inherit your mother’s domicile, or you would inherit your father’s if they were married.
What is the requirement for an adequate connection?
You need to be able to prove that you have an adequate connection with the country in which you wish to apply for divorce. To divorce in England and Wales, this means that at least one of the following must be demonstrable:
one or both partners are domiciled in England and Wales when the divorce application is made
the respondent (ie the person who did not apply for divorce, if the partners didn’t apply jointly) is a habitual resident of England and Wales
the applicant (ie the person or one of the people who applies for the divorce) is habitually resident in England and Wales and has resided here for at least a year immediately before the application
the applicant is domiciled and habitually resident in England and Wales and has been residing here for at least 6 months before the application
both partners are habitually resident in England and Wales
both partners were last habitually resident in England and Wales, and one still resides here, or
in the case of a joint application for divorce, at least one of the partners is habitually resident in England and Wales
I got married in England or Wales. Does that mean I can get a divorce here?
Many couples think that if they marry in England or Wales, they can automatically divorce in England or Wales. However, this is not automatically the case. Either you or your ex-partner needs to meet one of the criteria above regarding domicile and habitual residence to be able to apply for a divorce there.
International divorce law
If one of the divorcing couple does live abroad, then there are certain complexities that you need to be aware of.
For example, the laws of the European Union (EU) state that whichever legal system receives the petition first will deal with it. Although this rule is no longer applied in the UK, the English and Welsh courts may decide to pause or stop a divorce proceeding if it’s already being dealt with in another country (eg an EU country). This means that if you wish to use the English or Welsh courts, but your partner wants to start proceedings in another country, you should move quickly. Ultimately, the court’s decision on where to grant a divorce depends on which country 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 its 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 seek the services of a lawyer who understands international divorce laws and can help you 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 have ties to another country.
Note that the divorce process in Scotland is different. For more information, read The divorce process in Scotland. Ask a lawyer to find out more about divorcing in Scotland if you or your spouse live abroad.