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London: The Divorce Capital of the World?

View profile for Nina Lake
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London has often been described by the media as being the ‘divorce capital of the world’. Why is this? Surely it is not that easy for anyone to just pop along to the big city, nab a favourable divorce settlement and return to their country of residence. In this blog post I explore just how easy it is to establish jurisdiction in the courts of England and Wales.

‘Divorce capital of the world’ became a common tag to London following a number of hefty pay outs to ex-wives during divorce proceedings. High profile cases such as that of Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills, from which she received a massive pay out of £24.3 million, started a trend of spouses pushing to have their cases heard in England. This includes the most recent case of wealthy businessman Khoo Kay Peng and his wife Pauline Chai, who fought hard to gain permission to have her case heard in the courts of England and Wales.

In actual fact, there is quite specific law relating to when one can and can’t begin divorce proceedings in the jurisdiction of England and Wales. Cutting out as much of the legal jargon as possible, there are 7 situations in which someone might be able to bring proceedings in England and Wales:

  1. Both parties must be domiciled in this country.
  2. Both spouses are habitually resident in England and Wales.
  3. The spouses were last habitually residence and one of them still resides here.
  4. The respondent is habitually resident.
  5. In the event of a joint application, either of the spouses is habitually resident.
  6. The applicant is habitually residence if he resided there for at least one year immediately before the application was made.
  7. The applicant is habitually resident if he resided there for at least six months immediately before the application was made and has domicile in the UK.

So it is not a simple case of anyone just bringing proceedings over here as they so wish. In the case of Peng and Chai, Chai successfully convinced a High Court Judge that she lived primarily at the couples £30 million estate in Hertfordshire, at which she claimed she had 1000’s of pairs of shoes as proof that this was her main residence. It is thought that Chai will receive a much more favourable financial settlement than she would have done had she been divorced in Malaysia, where Peng was pushing to have the case heard, but with which he was unsuccessful.

This all seems pretty fair I think with regards to people that live outside the UK in having to have some sort of established connection here in order to benefit from the justice system, however what about the situation whereby, say the husband, is a national of another country but the wife is a UK citizen. The couple move to the husband’s country of nationality, buy a house there and have children there. The marriage breaks down and the wife wants to bring divorce proceedings in the UK which has a legal system she is comfortable with using. Technically speaking, she would be required to move back to England and Wales potentially for at least 6 months before she is able to apply for a divorce. This would be ok for the wealthy couple that possibly already have a second home in the UK, but for those whose children are enrolled in schools abroad or have no additional funds to relocate back to the UK, this could prove to be quite arduous.

I think the most important thing for the international couple to do when considering bringing proceedings in England and Wales is to seek legal advice from a family solicitor to discuss their options and establish where the courts of England and Wales will have jurisdiction to hear their case. This could save a lot of time and money in the long run in arguing where proceedings should be issued before divorce proceedings are even underway.

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