Divorce Jurisdiction & International Family Law

Divorce Jurisdiction

There can often be more than one country (jurisdiction) where a divorce can be started. It is quite possible for foreign nationals to divorce in England & Wales and also for English ‘ex pats’ to still divorce here.

Legal advice is needed to consider:

  • in what country or countries can a divorce validly start; and
  • which country is the best option particularly in terms of financial outcome.


With the European Union (except Denmark) there is a ‘first past the post’ rule. This means that he or she who first validly claims the divorce jurisdiction in their preferred country ‘wins the race’ namely that the divorce takes place there. The other person can do nothing about it.

That is why time is of the essence to ensure that specialist legal advice is taken in each relevant country to compare the financial outcomes and chose the country which best suits the case.

The rules are different beyond the European Union (except Denmark) as this ‘first past the post’ rule does not apply. Whoever claims jurisdiction first is still a relevant factor but a court may consider which country is better placed to consider the divorce case by taking into account, for example, where the parties actually live, where the assets are located and so on.

On occasions a person may claim a country for his or her divorce but there is no real jurisdiction to do so. This might be, for example, that although the person is a national of that country, he or she has not actually lived there for the relevant period. In such a case it may well be possible to challenge the divorce jurisdiction and have the case dismissed.

There can also be tax implications about a person stating their place of residence or domicile so care is needed.

We are expert in dealing with international family law cases. James Maguire is a Fellow of the International Academy of Family Lawyers and is a member of the Law Society’s child abduction panel. He is also on the panel for a number of embassies (including the US Embassy and Canadian High Commission) and British Consulates overseas. We also have contact to a number of leading lawyers worldwide.

We are family lawyers in England and Wales who concentrate on international divorce and family law issues. We are not lawyers in other jurisdictions and we work with independent lawyers around the world to resolve international family law cases.

For divorce jurisdiction advice or an informal chat on international family law please contact James Maguire by telephone +44 (0) 1625 529456 or by email at james.maguire@family-law.co.uk