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Understanding international divorce law to decide where’s best to get a divorce

By Susan Hardwood, on Thursday March 7, 2013 at 9:00am

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UK has been dubbed the divorce capital of Europe because it is perceived that wives get a good deal here – largely down to the fact that our judges have a lot of discretion on rulings compared to other countries and tend to take all circumstances into account. However, other countries are also burdened with certain rules when it comes to divorce – some for better and some for worse.

For instance, in Sweden, men appear to have an advantage as there are no rules on maintenance in divorce, with exceptions only applying in certain special circumstances, like where the wife has difficulty providing for themselves after a long marriage has been dissolved.

In Austria and in Scotland, pre-marital assets are not classed as matrimonial assets and so can be “ring fenced”, protecting them from any divorce settlement. In the Netherlands, debt acquired by one spouse prior to the marriage can be classed as matrimonial debt, so some of it has to be borne by the ex-partner in the event of a split.

If you are a British-born ex-pat, it may still be beneficial to use the English legal system to process your divorce, not least because it will be a system you are more comfortable with and in a language in which you are fluent. As a first step though you should always discuss the case with a family law specialist experienced in ex-pat divorce or divorce across borders. They will be able to look at all the facts and advise on whether you can use the English courts and also encourage you to consider the legal system of your adopted home if this might be better for you.

The main questions to be answered when deciding where to divorce are where you and your spouse are domiciled and where you normally live.

Whilst it’s fairly easy to demonstrate where you normally live domicile is slightly more complex. It is a legal concept used to link an individual with a particular legal system. It takes into account where you were born as well as where you are living now and your intentions for the future. In many cases, expats will be able to use the English legal system and this can be much quicker, cheaper and more effective in reaching a settlement acceptable to all. However, never discount the fact that it is not the only option or you may find yourself missing out on an unexpected perk of where you now live.

If you want to know more about ex-pat divorce, why not watch our short video on the topic?

Susan Harwood

International Family Law Specialist

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