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04 Jan 2021

New divorce laws for international couples come into force

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The UK government confirmed the new rules surrounding divorces in England and Wales involving other European countries, which came into force after 31 December 2020.

The UK government confirmed the new rules surrounding divorces in England and Wales involving other European countries, which came into force after 31 December 2020.

Private wealth law firm Boodle Hatfield explained that now, if divorce petitions are filed in two different jurisdictions, the country with which the parties have the strongest links will hear the divorce case.

At present, UK law incorporates EU regulations which provide a ‘first past the post’ rule. This means in cases where a divorce could take place in multiple EU states, the country in which proceedings are issued first will have priority – even if one party filed only hours or minutes before the other.

These rules no longer apply in the UK as of 1 January 2021.

The most appropriate country to determine a divorce is not always easy to determine, particularly if the couple lived in different countries for extended periods and could reasonably claim to have links with multiple jurisdictions.

Boodle Hatfield believes these new rules may well lead to lengthy cross-border disputes over which jurisdiction is the most appropriate in international cases. This could result in higher litigation costs for many international couples.

In recent years many internationally mobile couples, have been rushing to file for divorce in England to ensure that their divorces are decided under English law by virtue of being first in time.

English courts have a reputation for offering more generous maintenance payments and an equal split of marital assets. They also have far reaching powers to deal with assets held in trusts and can reverse transfers of assets arranged prior to or during divorce proceedings.

Harriet Errington, partner at Boodle Hatfield, said: “International couples in England and Wales looking to initiate divorce proceedings have been given the clarity they have anxiously been waiting for – although we suspect the result won’t be what some individuals hoped for.”

“The new rules on jurisdiction are likely to bring a host of complications to divorce proceedings involving international couples, who will face further uncertainty along with the burden of higher litigation costs in cases where there is a dispute as to the most appropriate forum.

“The jurisdiction in which divorce proceedings take place can have an enormous impact on the financial award. The financially weaker partner could save millions by successfully securing the jurisdiction of the English courts.”

This article first appeared in eprivateclient on 5th January 2021.