Weekly Family Law Update June 17, 2024

Claiming financial relief in England and Wales following a foreign divorce

It is well known that the courts in England and Wales can be more generous than the courts of many other countries when it comes to financial settlements on divorce, particularly in relation to financial provision for wives. Indeed, in some jurisdictions wives may receive little or no provision from the local courts.

It is because of this lack of reasonable provision that in 1984 the courts here were given the power in certain circumstances to award financial relief to spouses following a foreign divorce, in a similar way to which they can award financial relief after a divorce here.

When financial relief may be claimed

The first thing to make clear is that the possibility of claiming relief is not open to anybody. Any foreign national, aggrieved at the settlement awarded in their own country cannot simply come here to get a better settlement. There must be some connection with this country.

The courts here will only be able to award relief in one of three circumstances:

1. Where either of the parties to the marriage was domiciled in England and Wales on the date of the application for relief;

2. Where either of the parties to the marriage was habitually resident in England and Wales throughout the period of one year ending with the date of the application; or

3. Where one of the parties has an interest in a dwelling-house situated in England or Wales which was at some time during the marriage a matrimonial home of the parties.

And before the court decides what order to make it must first be satisfied that it would be appropriate for such an order to be made by a court in England and Wales.

In particular the court should have regard to a number of matters, including the connection that the parties have with this country and with the country in which the marriage was dissolved; any financial benefit which the applicant has received in consequence of the divorce; the availability in England and Wales of any property in respect of which an order in favour of the applicant could be made; and the extent to which any order is likely to be enforceable.

Recent reported cases

There have been a number of recent reported cases involving claims for financial relief in England and Wales following a foreign divorce, and a brief look at two examples demonstrates how the law can work.

The first example concerned a wife’s application for financial relief following a foreign divorce (we are not told where, it being described as ‘Country A’). The parties had married in London in 2001. They had lived in Country A between 2002 and 2020, since when they had been based in London.

The husband had divorced the wife by Talaq in Country A. The wife was entitled to no financial provision in Country A, and so issued an application here for financial relief following the foreign divorce.

The financial positions of the parties was in dispute, but the husband claimed to have assets worth £70 million, including property in the UK, and the wife claimed to have no assets. The court was satisfied that it was appropriate to make an order and accordingly awarded the wife a lump sum of £27 million.

The second case was quite different, concerning an application by the wife, following a divorce in New Zealand.

The court in New Zealand had dealt with the divorce settlement but did not have jurisdiction to deal with a property in England owned by the husband. The parties had lived in the property between 2006 and 2009.

The wife made a claim in relation to the property, in the Central Family Court in London. The court here had jurisdiction to entertain the wife’s claim, as the property had been used as the matrimonial home.

After issuing her claim the property was sold by the husband, with the net proceeds amounting to some £1.2 million.

The court decided the wife’s claim on the basis of her needs. It found that she needed £564,000, mostly to meet her housing needs, and therefore awarded her that sum. The award was less than 50% of the net value of the matrimonial home, reflecting both the short time the parties had lived in the property, and the fact that it had been owned by the husband prior to the marriage.