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Ex-pat family law problems

You have to be a fairly brave person to move abroad. For some, the trauma of just going on an annual holiday to a different country can almost outweigh the benefits of a week in the sun. The language barrier is daunting for many, not knowing your way around, suspicion over local foods and fear of something going wrong on the journey can conspire to take some of the fun out of a trip abroad. So, to go one better and move abroad, you have to be made of fairly stern and determined stuff.

But that does not mean that those who get as far as shifting their lives to a new country are fully equipped with all the tools to get by comfortably in foreign surroundings. Nor does it mean that foreign systems are necessarily sympathetic to immigrants.

The potential problems have been brought into focus in a study by Queen Mary, University of London, looking at British emigrants to Turkey. It highlights foreign legal systems for ex-pats being one of the biggest problem areas. The report (Language barriers creates legal hurdles for Brits in Turkey) says the Turkish legal system specifically affects those who have invested in the country if there is a subsequent divorce, particularly if the British citizen married a Turkish citizen. For instance, if the ex-pat invested money in buying a family home in Turkey, a divorce court there may not favour them, meaning they could lose their investment. The issue is, of course, compounded by unfamiliarity with the language and legal system itself.

While this study is specific to Turkey, the kinds of issues it identifies for ex-pats are common wherever a British citizen decides to settle. Some of the detail may be different, but language barriers, a lack of knowledge about the legal system and at least a perception that any legal action in their adopted home country will favour locals, are common. There is also the wide misconception that if you are abroad and you want to divorce, you have to navigate that country’s family law system. The reality is that this is often not the case.

If you find yourself in that situation, the best advice I can give is to take advice from a UK family lawyer in the first instance. They will be able to advise on your specific situation, which will vary depending on whether you moved to another country and married a local, you married a foreign citizen in the UK and moved abroad, or you moved abroad with your UK spouse but the relationship failed.

In this last instance, in many cases you will be able to divorce under English law. This knowledge alone brings relief to thousands of couples each year.

Susan Harwood
Family lawyer, Cornwall

This blog was written before the UK left the European Union in December 2020 and was correct at the time of writing. If you would like advice on divorce under the laws of England and Wales contact Woolley & Co.

Blog Author - Susan Harwood

Susan Harwood Susan Harwood

Sue is a divorce and family lawyer with Woolley & Co, predominantly based in Cornwall, but managing cases across the south west and also working in London.

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