International Divorce & Family Issues
If you or your partner have any international links (by virtue of your nationality, residence or assets), our exceptional team of family lawyers will act quickly, guiding and protecting you whilst navigating the complexities of your case.
Divorce often involves complex international issues and many of our clients have links to countries outside England & Wales. For example, if you or your partner are a foreign national or are living in another country, there may be options in terms of the country in which the divorce or separation process is started (unrelated to where you got married) and you may need urgent advice.
It is crucial to get expert advice on international family law issues as soon as possible not least because the timing of your application is important and the outcomes in different countries can be very different.
Our international family law specialists have very strong language skills (for full details, see below) and are connected to expert family lawyers across the globe.
Directors Elizabeth Hicks and David Allison are members of the prestigious International Academy of Family Lawyers (IAFL). This is a global network of family lawyers, selected for their international expertise in family law. As a firm, we have access to the IAFL’s global network and can get in touch with a recommended family lawyer in the required country as quickly as needed. Director David Allison is also a member of the American Bar Association, International Law Section. Director Charlotte Symes is a member of the Franco-British Lawyers Society and regularly attends the annual French family lawyers conference in Paris, the États Généraux.
Members of our team travel worldwide to international conferences to build relationships with foreign family lawyers and to learn about the differences in our respective legal systems, which impact on families whether at the start or the end of a relationship.
Our Expertise →
We regularly advise on complex issues arising from international divorce including:
- Pre and post-nuptial agreements and cohabitation agreements where the individuals have international links (either through nationality or residency)
- Jurisdiction disputes where more than one country may deal with a divorce and each person prefers a different jurisdiction
- Recognition of foreign marriages and divorces
- Recognition of foreign/domestic civil partnerships and same-sex marriages
- Financial provision following a foreign divorce where the financial provision was inadequate
- Enforcement of court orders abroad and foreign court orders in England & Wales
- International relocation of children
- Surrogacy, assisted reproduction and international adoption
- Offshore corporate and trust arrangements
- Overseas pension arrangements.
Our lawyers draw on their specialist knowledge, language skills and first class, worldwide contacts to advise a range of clients who include:
- UK nationals living or working abroad
- Foreign nationals living or working in England & Wales or contemplating moving to England & Wales
- Foreign nationals living abroad who want to divorce in England & Wales
- Parents who want to relocate abroad or who want to create or enforce arrangements affecting their children
- Parents seeking parental orders to deal with surrogacy or assisted reproduction
- Foreign trustees, settlors, beneficiaries and family offices
- Same sex couples seeking advice on their foreign marriage or civil partnership
- Foreign lawyers
Please take the time to read our case studies below which illustrate how we have added value to our clients by bringing our international expertise to their individual cases.
Our Language Skills →
Our family lawyers have an extensive language expertise including in French, German, Spanish and Italian. Members of our team have lived and worked in these European countries, which not only enhances our language skills but deepens our understanding of any cultural issues and sensitivities. This can be just as important as language skills and familiarity with a country’s legal system.
French language skills:
Director Charlotte Symes and two of our Associate Solicitors, Selena Arbe-Barnes and Rebecca Alexander, are fluent in French. Directors James Pirrie and Elizabeth Hicks both have a strong working knowledge of French.
Spanish language skills:
German language skills:
Welsh language skills:
Director Elizabeth Hicks is fluent in Welsh.
Some Case Studies →
These case studies illustrate the support our international family law specialists provide to clients with international connections or whose cases involve international aspects.
Case study 1
Jane came to the office when she was back in London visiting her elderly parents. She and her husband John had relocated to Italy 15 years before where they continued to live with their 3 children. Jane explained that she wanted a divorce as John was controlling and becoming more unpleasant towards her. She no longer wanted to live in Italy and wanted to come home to England with their three children.
Both Jane and John are British. John has a very successful business in England and commutes to and from England for his work. As Jane and John hadn’t lived in England and Wales for over 15 years, Jane did not have the ability at that time to start divorce proceedings here. Under the European Legislation known as Brussels II bis she could start however divorce proceedings in Italy as they were both habitually resident there. Urgent enquiries were made with an Italian lawyer regarding how the Italian Court would deal with finances on divorce and their advice was that it was unlikely that the business would be taken into account by the court in Italy as a matrimonial asset.
As this was a significant valuable asset, and as Jane did not really want to get divorced in Italy (she didn’t speak Italian fluently), she asked what she could do to ensure the divorce and financial matters were dealt with in London. She was advised that she would need to relocate to England and live here for 6 months before starting any proceedings. She explained that she and John were considering sending the children to school in England so she should be able to move with them. John intended to continue to live in Italy but see the children and Jane when he was in England with his work.
After 6 months of Jane living in England, divorce and financial remedy proceedings were started on the basis that she was habitually resident and domiciled in England and Wales. The family business was valued as part of the financial remedy proceedings and taken into account as part of an overall financial settlement. The result for Jane was that she obtained far more by way of a financial settlement in England than she would have obtained in Italy.
Obtaining specialist family advice on an international divorce is essential.
Case Study 2
Thomas was married to Margaret. Thomas is British and Margaret is American. They have two children aged 18 and 12. The marriage had been in difficulty for some time and Margaret had suffered with mental health issues and depression. While Thomas had tried to support her, he expressed concern on her ability to care for their children when she was having a depressive episode. Margaret announced she was going to return to the USA and take the two children with her. Thomas did not agree to this.
He was advised that as their eldest child was over the age of 16, the court had no jurisdiction to deal with her. The court could however consider if a relocation from here to the USA was in the best interests of their 12 year old son. Thomas was concerned that Margaret wouldn’t settle in the USA as she hadn’t lived there for over 20 years and she had little by way of family support there. Thomas explained that their son was doing well at school, having just moved to Senior school the year before, he was happy and settled with close friends and his paternal family near by. Thomas did not believe that a move to the USA was in their son’s best interests.
Mediation didn’t work as the parties’ positions were so polarised.
Thomas applied to court for an Order that their son should live with him and Margaret cross applied to court for an Order that she be allowed to relocate their son to the USA. The proceedings were contested. An independent social worker met with both children and the parents and prepared a report which recommended that their son should live with Thomas. An agreement was reached on the first day of trial which provided for their son to live with Thomas in England and for Margaret to spend time with him during school holidays in the USA and during term time in England.
Knowing your rights when faced with international children issues is essential.
Case Study 3
Mary wanted to divorce George. They had two young children which she looked after full time. They divided their time between Monaco, London and France. She was worried that George would not be open about the extent of their wealth and she was unaware of their total assets.
Advice was taken in Monaco and France regarding whether Mary could divorce George in those countries and if so, how the court would deal with their finances and in particular whether George would have to swear on oath the extent of his wealth. It became apparent that Mary would have a much better financial order in England and Wales and that the court’s powers against not just George but third parties were far more here than in Monaco and France.
Divorce proceedings were started. Financial proceedings were started and George made disclosure of his assets on oath. Negotiations commenced but then broke down. George was ordered to make further disclosure and in amongst the considerable documents he provided was an agreement which referred to the fact that he had an interest in an offshore company he had not previously disclosed. This document was used to obtain orders against George’s accountants and his bank in London for them to disclose their files on George. In amongst the 50 odd boxes of documents were numerous documents showing he had an interest in various offshore entities. Liaison took place with lawyers in 5 separate countries to find out about those entities and also to ensure that if orders were obtained freezing those assets from the High Court in England that similar orders could be obtained abroad. It was key to preserve the assets as there was a genuine concern he would move them given that he had not disclosed their existence in the first place.
After 18 months of litigation and numerous court hearings in London and abroad, it was established that George was worth double what he had originally disclosed on oath. On the day of the final hearing George started negotiating and after 5 days of discussions a financial settlement was reached which provided Mary with considerably more than she would have obtained if she had settled at the start.
Having specialist international lawyers can make a difference to the financial outcome.
Case Study 4
Sophie had a little girl with Ben. Ben and Sophie separated before their daughter was born and he didn’t see much of her. Sophie had family in Singapore and decided she was going to move there. Ben objected to her taking their daughter to live in Singapore, and made an urgent application to court preventing her from leaving the country. The court listed the case for a hearing on 24 hours notice.
The Judge agreed that Sophie could move with their daughter to Singapore and took into account the fact that Ben had not engaged in having a relationship with her since she was born. However the Judge decided that the move would be for an initial period of 3 months only, with Sophie having to then make an application to court if she wanted to carry on living in Singapore if Ben objected to it.
Eighteen months later Sophie made contact to explain that Ben was now asking for her to return their daughter to England. Her position was that they had agreed between themselves that she could carry on living in Singapore with their daughter. Ben disputed this. Negotiations began on an agreement which allowed for Sophie to remain living in Singapore with their daughter but Ben refused to engage. He then started proceedings in Singapore claiming that Sophie had wrongfully retained their daughter there and she needed to be returned to England. A local lawyer who represented Sophie in the proceedings advised that she was much better returning voluntarily to England.
Sophie returned to England with their daughter and an agreement was then reached with Ben which allowed for him to spend time with his daughter.
Knowing where to turn for urgent specialist family law advice in foreign countries is key.
Our International Cases →
Some of our international family law cases are reported but many are kept out of the courts. Those that have been reported include:
- Xanthopoulos v Rakshina  – FLiP successfully represented a Russian national in a long-running case concerning financial provision following a divorce in Russia (Part III MFPA 1984, the “Part III Application”).
- Xanthopoulos v Rakshina  – An important decision concerning privacy in family proceedings and anonymisation. The decision was made as part of a claim for financial relief after an overseas divorce. The decision was widely reported in the mainstream press.
- Re X (Children)  – This was an appeal from the High Court to the Court of Appeal against a judge’s refusal to set aside an order in which a Russian order concerning children was recognised and enforced in England. FLiP represented the mother on this appeal by the father. His appeal was dismissed.
- HA v WA v BV  – This was a preliminary issue hearing to determine whether a flat in London was owned beneficially by FLiP’s client. The court held that despite the legal title being registered in the name of our client, she held it on trust for her brother.
- AA and BB  – FLiP represented the mother in a case concerning competing children proceedings in England and in Russia. The High Court determined (as argued by FLiP) that Article 13 Hague Convention 1996 applied in respect of first in time rules (as the UK and Russia are signatories). The father had argued that the European regulation (BIIa) applied as this was a mandatory provision during the UK transition period from the EU.
- Re X (Children)  – This was the appeal from the case referred to above. The Court of Appeal said that the judge was wrong to say that Article 13 Hague Convention applied to the first in time rules as between the UK (then in the transition period to becoming a non-EU state) and Russia. The Court of Appeal said that, if the children were habitually resident in the UK then the European regulation (BIIa) would apply.
- Re AA  – a children case issued before the end of the Brexit transition period where a lis pendens situation arose between the UK and a 1996 Hague Convention country that is not a signatory to Brussels II Revised. The Court decided that the 1996 Hague Convention, not Brussels II Revised should apply.
- J v J (Return to Non-Hague Convention Country) – a case concerning the return of a child to India following an abduction by the mother.
- Divall v Divall  – a complex case concerning a jurisdiction dispute.
- Solovyev v Solovyeva  – a case concerning the recognition of overseas divorces by the English courts.
- B v S (Financial Remedy: Marital Property Regime)  – a case concerning the effect of a separate property regime and a post-nuptial agreement.
- Golubovich v Golubovich  – a case regarding the recognition of foreign divorce decrees by the English courts.
- Re X and Y (Leave to remove from jurisdiction: no order principle)  – a case concerning the relocation of children abroad against the wishes of the other parent.
- Al Habtoor v Fotheringham  – a case concerning the issue of habitual residence of a child and the recognition by the English court of foreign court orders.
Apostille & D180 Certificates →
Obtaining an Apostille
An Apostille certifies or authenticates that the signature, seal or stamp on a UK document(s) is genuine so that the document can be recognised in a country outside England & Wales.. In order to have the document recognised or enforced in another jurisdiction you will also have to follow other requirements specific to the country that you wish the document to be recognised in.
You can obtain an Apostille either by using the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office online or via a registered company like the Apostille Service.
- Using the Legalisation Office at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
Telephone: 03700 002 244
There are three options available for obtaining an Apostille using the FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office) :.
- The standard service is available to professionals and members of the public;
- The business service is only available to professionals.
- £30 per document (excluding courier or postage fees)
- Courier costs:
- UK (including British Forces Post Offices) – £5 per 1.5kg
- European Countries (not including Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Liechtenstein, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia & Turkey) – £17.50 per 1.5kg
- Rest of the World – £22.50 per 1.5kg
If you don’t want to pay courier fees and you are in the UK, you can have the documents returned by post. You must include an A4 envelope with the return address written on it and attach enough UK postage stamps to cover the return postage.
- It takes around 20 working days to process the documents, plus the courier or postage time.
- The cover sheet that is generated must accompany the documents otherwise they won’t be able to find your application. The cover sheet provides the FCDO with the application reference number, payment details, contact details and the number of documents that are being legalised.
- The cover sheet and documents should be sent by special delivery to: Legalisation Office, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, PO Box 7656, Milton Keynes, MK11 9NS.
- £30 per document
- The documents are uploaded as part of the application process.
- When they have been legalised you will be able to download these.
- This service usually takes 2 working days.
Same-day Business Service
- £75 per document
- The documents are dropped off and collected on the same day.
The FCDO can only legalise certain types of documents and not all of the documents that can be legalised are eligible for an E-Apostille. You should check with the relevant authority how they would like the Apostille (paper or E-Apostille).
You must also check whether you need to meet any other requirements before the documents can be legalised, for example having a document certified if it is a photocopy.
- Using a Registered FCDO Apostille Service
- The cost is £84 per document and includes document checks, the FCDO fees, admin charges, VAT and disbursements and solicitor certification.
Obtaining a D180 Certificate
- Obtaining a D180 Certificate – Pre-Brexit
- If your divorce proceedings were started before the Brexit transition period [31 December 2020], then you are eligible to apply to the court for a D180 (Article 39) certificate. This document can only be used to recognise a final decree in divorce.
- This document can also be apostilled.
- Obtaining a D180 Certificate – Post-Brexit
- If your divorce proceedings were started after the Brexit transition period [1 January 2021], you are no longer eligible to apply to the court for a D180 (Article 39) certificate.
- The rules regarding the recognition abroad for divorces started in England & Wales vary greatly depending on where you want to have the divorce recognised. There are some instances where divorces will be recognised automatically and there will be others where advice will need to be obtained from specialists in that jurisdiction.
At Family Law in Partnership we regularly deal with the obtaining of Apostilles and D180 Certificates for our clients. If you would like to speak to one of our family law specialists, please contact us at T: 020 7420 5000 or E: email@example.com.
We have some of the very best London divorce lawyers and mediators, along with accomplished arbitrators, family consultants and counsellors. There’s no one better to handle your case.
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