Can Foreign Nationals divorce in the UK?

Foreign nationals can divorce in England if one party to the marriage lives in or has the necessary connections to the UK. Foreign expats can divorce in the UK even if they married overseas. Expatriate Law specialise in advising international families living in London and across the UK.

This article will assist couples considering divorce or separation, in particular:

  • International families living temporarily in England as expats
  • Couples that have been sent to London as a work posting
  • Foreign nationals living permanently in the UK but with assets overseas
  • Couples that were married abroad but now live here

The breakdown of a marriage is often a difficult situation to manage and it can be even harder when you are having to go through the separation and divorce process as a foreign national or expat in the UK. This article provides a brief outline of the process of divorce for foreign nationals and expatriates living temporarily or permanently in England or Wales. More detailed information about making an application for divorce can be found here.

Can I divorce in England?

Your first consideration before engaging in family law proceedings, including divorce and financial claims, must be whether the English courts have jurisdiction over your matter. In order to petition for divorce in England you must fall into one of the following 7 categories:

  1. You and your spouse are habitually resident in England or Wales.
  2. You or your spouse lived in England or Wales and one of you still live there.
  3. You wish to commence the divorce and your spouse lives in England or Wales.
  4. You wish to commence the divorce and you have lived in England or Wales for 1 year.
  5. You wish to commence the divorce and you have lived in England or Wales for 6 months, and you are domiciled in England or Wales.
  6. You and your spouse are both domiciled in England or Wales.
  7. Either you OR your spouse are domiciled in England or Wales, and no other EU country has jurisdiction under 1-6 above.

What claims can I make?

You do not need to be a British citizen, you do not need to own property or land in England and you do not have to be in the UK when making the applications. Further information is available here. The English courts can assist with:

  1. Your divorce (even if the marriage took place overseas and has not been registered in England)
  2. The division of assets (even if those assets are overseas)
  3. Maintenance payments (even if the paying party lives abroad)
  4. Sharing of pensions
  5. Financial claims for same sex couples
  6. Financial claims for unmarried couples
  7. Financial claims on behalf of children

Do not delay in obtaining advice

Most divorces can be conducted on paper and will not require you or your spouse to attend court. In such cases, the divorce process itself can be dealt with in as little as 5 months.

To commence divorce proceedings, you must have been married to your spouse for at least 1 year. A divorce in England will bring an end to your marriage, wherever you are married (there are some exceptions which we can discuss with you).

If you live in England, it may still be beneficial for you to divorce in another country, where the financial outcome will be different. We can discuss with you the jurisdictions open to you for divorce, and which is best for you. If you think you or your spouse could divorce in another country, please do not delay in seeking advice. Delay may give your spouse time to issue proceedings in a country which will give you a less favourable financial outcome.

Expatriate Law has significant experience dealing with cases where jurisdiction has been contested and encourage you to get in touch if you have any concerns about these issues.

If you speak another language

It is a requirement for all cases under this jurisdiction to have all of the relevant paperwork and applications submitted in English.[1] This includes any documents that may not have been originally produced in English, including your marriage certificate and you will be required to provide an authorised translation of such documents. At Expatriate Law, we work regularly with clients whose mother-tongue is not English and are able to provide additional advice in French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Tamil and Mandarin Chinese.

Do I need to attend court?

If you are not in the UK when the application is made and will not be able to return during the divorce proceedings, it may be possible to conduct all meetings including any court listings via telephone or video-conferencing. Recently, the family courts have been trialling more remote hearings and our lawyers in Dubai, Singapore and Australia regularly attend hearings remotely. Since the Coronavirus pandemic, our London office has continued to adapt its workstyle and all our lawyers are now fully equipped to manage case work remotely.

What about our children?

Usually, matters involving children are distinguished from divorce and financial remedy proceedings. As a foreign national living in the UK, you do not have to be married for the court to make orders regarding your children and there will be no automatic presumption in favour of the parent who is a British national and / or the parent living in the UK. Children cases are often particularly sensitive and will always be treated with the utmost care and respect by our firm. If you are living temporarily in England, the English courts are still able to make orders concerning arrangements for the children, for example:

  1. To decide where a child should go to school
  2. To decide whether a child should have certain medical treatment
  3. To decide which parent a child should live with
  4. To decide whether one parent should be allowed to take a child on holiday
  5. To decide whether one parent can relocate to another country with a child

Expatriate Law advise on these issues regularly. Court is not the only option, and we will discuss with you the many alternatives to court such as negotiation, mediation and arbitration.

How Expatriate Law can help

The lawyers within our firm have significant experience working with both UK and foreign expatriates on all family matters. We have offices in London, Dubai and Singapore and work internationally with clients from the main expat hubs and all over the world. You can meet our team here.

To discuss your individual circumstances with an expert, please do contact us at, submit an enquiry through our website chat feature or call us directly to organise a free advice session with one of our lawyers. We offer consultations via telephone, Skype, Zoom, Whatsapp call or in person in our London office.

[1] Applications in Wales may be submitted in Welsh.

Photo by Jamie Davies on Unsplash

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