Foreign Nationals Divorce in the UK

Can I divorce in the UK as a foreign national? We didn’t get married in the UK but can we divorce in the UK? What financial claims can I make through the English courts if I’m from abroad? What about our children?

This and many more questions are answered in this article for foreign nationals considering a divorce through the English courts.

How we can help: If you are not British but have the right connections to the UK, through residence for example, you can divorce in England or Wales. Also worth noting, 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. Your family may have relocated to the UK for a work posting, or for a short term stay. We can assist with your family law issues whilst you are in the UK.

The breakdown of a marriage is often a difficult situation to manage.  It can be even harder to go through the separation and divorce process as a foreign national or expat in the UK. This article will assist couples considering divorce or separation, in particular:

  • International families living temporarily in England or Wales 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 in the UK

Further, it provides a brief outline of the divorce process 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 as a foreign national?

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 file 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 lives 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 financial claims can I make?

There are common misconceptions about the financial claims that can be made. Interestingly, 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 on our financial claims factsheet article. The English courts can assist with:

  • Your divorce (even if the marriage took place overseas and has not been registered in England)
  • The division of assets (even if those assets are overseas)
  • Maintenance payments (even if the paying party lives abroad)
  • Sharing of pensions
  • Financial claims for same sex couples
  • Financial claims for unmarried couples
  • Financial claims on behalf of children
  • Getting protection
  • Domestic violence
  • Court applications
  • Mediation and other methods of settlement

How long does the divorce take to finalise?

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

How and where do I file for divorce?

To start 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 were 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

All cases under the English jurisdiction must submit all of the relevant paperwork and applications in English. An authorised translation of documents not originally produced in English, including your marriage certificate, must be provided with any application.

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 in person?

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 via video link.

Since the Coronavirus pandemic, our London office has continued to adapt its workstyle and all our lawyers are able to work remotely to support your case.

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. Furthermore, 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:

  • To decide where a child should go to school
  • To decide whether a child should have certain medical treatment
  • To decide which parent a child should live with
  • To decide whether one parent should be allowed to take a child on holiday
  • 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.

We are proud to have have been recognised by a number of legal awards over the years:

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 speak to a senior lawyer, without charge. We offer consultations via telephone, Skype, Zoom, Whatsapp call or in person in our London office.

Further reading:

Foreign Nationals divorce in the UK

Contact our experienced lawyers for confidential and clear advice on the issues detailed in the article.

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Divorce and Family Law

See the links below for information on British expat divorce law in the following countries:

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