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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

Ex-pats still confused over divorce

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Egypt has hardly been out of the news in the UK for the past few weeks. The country steeped in history is rarely front and centre on the six or ten o’clock news but we have been treated repeatedly to scenes of huge crowds in the centre of Cairo. At first they were calling for disliked president Hosni Mubarak to go. Now, they are congregating to celebrate him going.

I always find it fascinating to watch these historic events unfolding abroad. And I never cease to be amazed how they always find some British ex-pats to interview for the BBC, ITV or Sky News. Whatever part of the world it is, the British have moved there, set up home and are getting on very nicely thank you very much.

Not that there is anything particularly surprising about Brits in Egypt. The country has become increasingly popular with British ex-pats in recent years as the price of flights dropped and the huge strides in technology meant it now longer seemed that far away. Email, Skype and the internet all make it easier for us to move around the globe and keep in touch. Trust me, I know. Family lawyer Alison Hill operated from her adopted home in Egypt, continuing to service her existing clients in the West Midlands as well as new ones in the ex-pat community there.

It seems however that for many who do spread their wings and emigrate, family law issues are still a huge area of confusion. Setting up home somewhere foreign, starting a new life and finding their way around appear easy when faced with the apparent complexities of, say, getting a divorce when you are no longer living in the UK.

There is still a belief in many quarters that if you want to divorce, you either have to go through the system in the country where you are living, following proceedings in a foreign language and a process unfamiliar to you, or else turn up at court hearings in the UK to get anything sorted out. Neither route seems particularly palatable. The reality though is very different and an experienced family lawyer can guide you through this.

There are more than a million Brits living abroad, according to the Institute for Public Policy research – and with statistics suggesting that somewhere between a third and a half of UK marriages will end in divorce, that’s a lot of people who are not clear about how they go about getting a divorce. Whether they are married to someone else from the UK or not makes little difference.

You will need what we call an ex-pat divorce if you are originally from England or Wales, currently living in another part of the world and want to use the English Courts to obtain a divorce, or if you have lived outside the UK for a number of years, have only recently returned and want to divorce here.

The question of whether a person can divorce under English law (rather than under the law of where they are currently living) revolves around the question of where they are “domiciled”. This is a legal point which takes into account where they were born as well as where they are living now and their intentions for the future.

Ex-pat divorce need not the nightmare that many people believe it to be.

Andrew Woolley
Family Solicitor

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