The Daily Mail online today reports that the most senior family judge of England and Wales has been asked to annul 180 divorces granted by courts in this country to Italians who had falsely claimed that they live here. It appears that, in 179 of these cases, the same address had been used, and that address turned out to be a post office box, rather than a residential address.
At first blush, it may appear strange that citizens of an EU country are restricted in their ability to choose which member state’s legal system should apply to them. Given the freedom of movement that individuals now have this may seem to be something of an anomaly. However, there are strict criteria which apply when determining whether the English court is the appropriate place to hear a dispute. For divorcing couples, this requires the Petitioner to show that there is a strong residential connection with the country. Generally, both parties will be “habitually resident”, meaning, effectively that they live and work here. However, with people living more and more international lives, there is a requirement that, as a minimum, at least one party to the Divorce has to have been habitually resident here for at least 6 months. In certain circumstances, that time limit may be extended to a year.
So why do couples who have no real connection to this country want to use our legal system to get divorced? The article refers to the requirement, under Italian divorce law, for couples to be separated for a mandatory period of 3 years before starting divorce proceedings. Here, however, couples can divorce immediately if they can prove adultery or unreasonable behaviour as the reason for the breakdown of their marriage.
So speed is one reason, there is also the financial aspect to divorce. London has developed a reputation as “the divorce capital of the world”. Our laws with regard to matrimonial finance are often seen as being very generous to the poorer spouse (often, although certainly not always, the wife) because of our concept of fairness and how that has been interpreted over the years, in particular since the landmark case of White –v- White in 2001. This has led to a number of high profile and very high value cases involving foreign nationals being decided by the English courts.
So the question of where a divorce can be heard is a very important one. Once divorce proceedings are started in one country, the laws of that country will determine the divorce and the financial settlement. It can be very difficult and expensive to have those proceedings stopped and re-started in another country. Anyone who has a significant international aspect to their lives should consider their options very carefully and take advice at an early stage in each country that they think may be able to deal with their divorce.
At Slater and Gordon, our experienced team of family lawyers are very well acquainted with the issues that face couples who spend their lives in different countries.
By Family Law Solicitor Ed Kitchen.
For more information about Divorce & Separation, please email one of our Family Law Solicitors at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 0800 916 9055.