• January 2016
    Journey's end in lovers' meeting ...What's to come, is still unsure Shakespeare


    St Valentine may be the patron saint of travelling, engaged couples and happy marriages but in today’s world, as we travel for holidays and work, meeting our future partners in far flung places across the globe, his combined responsibilities give rise to potential problems.  To quote Shakespeare “Journeys end in lovers’ meeting…  [but ] ….What’s to come, is still unsure:”.


    Let’s start with the wedding itself. Many couples choose to make their dreams come true, going where the sun shines brightly, and the sea is blue, to tie the knot. The couple has wonderful memories, until the relationship breaks down and, for example, it transpires that the ceremony was not a legal marriage.  Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger’s 1990 “wedding” in Bali turned out not to have been a valid wedding ceremony after all.  The marriage was annulled as void.  Jerry Hall had never legally been Mick Jagger’s wife, with highly adverse consequences on her financial claims. A foreign ceremony not only has to be valid in the state where it was celebrated, with all formalities observed, but each person has to be free to contract marriage in their own state.  Even the UK requires a civil as well as a religious marriage ceremony in some cases.


    An international divorce can be even more complicated than an international wedding: perhaps a couple will have moved around for work reasons, living in different countries, during the marriage. They may be physically resident in the UK when the marriage ends, but are they legally domiciled here? Domicile is, to an extent, a question of choice.  Someone may have worked abroad for years, and not lived in their home country during that time, but because they intend to retire there at the end of their working life, or because all of their assets are in the home country, may remain domiciled there.  This may prevent divorce in the UK and can have a significant impact on financial issues.  Even within the European Union financial consequences of divorce may vary enormously: some member states do not recognise pre-nuptial agreements, inherited assets may never be included or spousal maintenance unavailable.  If someone is employed by a foreign company, it may not be possible to pension share the company pension (very often the most significant asset after the marital home) in another jurisdiction.  Separate proceedings to deal with finances may be required, particularly as where assets are physically situated in another country there may be huge problems enforcing an English court order.  Foreign lawyers should be consulted so that the best strategy can be devised.


    Legal systems also differ markedly about deciding arrangements for children.  Some countries recognise only the father as having custodial rights, even for foreign residents.    Where a marriage breaks down and there is an international element, a prudent lawyer will immediately give consideration as to whether there is any risk of child abduction and whether pre-emptive measures are required.  Even if child abduction is unlikely, one parent’s employment prospects may be greatly increased through linguistic or skill issues in another country.  When it comes to a parent wishing to relocate to another country with a child, there is no principle in the United Kingdom that permission will only exceptionally be granted.  Relocation decisions focus on the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration, which necessarily involves considering both parents’ wishes and interests.


    International marriages throw up other legal issues, even if the marriage is stable and happy.  Significant concerns affecting immigration status, state benefits, inheritance and taxation issues can arise.  Wills have to be drafted carefully to ensure they deal adequately with foreign assets, and if necessary preparing a foreign Will, to avoid very real difficulties administering the estate.


    If you don’t share the same passport as your intended spouse (or either has dual nationality), or you and your spouse are intending to live abroad, research before tying the knot or making your move.  Draw up an agreement with legal advice – it may not be binding but most courts dealing with marital breakdown will attach some weight to it.  Sixteen percent of divorces in England and Wales have an international aspect – this need not mean insurmountable international problems.

    This article provides only a general summary and is not intended to be comprehensive.  Special legal advice should be taken in any individual situation.

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