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A common question we receive from British Expats living overseas is “can I get divorced in the UK if I live abroad?” In short, the answer is yes. UK* Expats are able to divorce in England and Wales despite the fact they are living abroad, as long as certain criteria apply.

The key requirement is that the divorcing couple need to have a sufficient connection with England and Wales to be able to submit a divorce application here. That doesn’t mean you have to be in England or Wales for the Divorce Court to grant you a divorce.

Applying for a divorce overseas

If you or your spouse are an Expat living overseas, you would need to establish that one of the following apply:-

  • You or your spouse is domiciled in England and Wales when the divorce proceedings start;
  • The Respondent is habitually resident in England or Wales;
  • The Applicant is habitually resident in England or Wales and has been so residing for at least one year immediately before the divorce application is issued;
  • The Applicant is domiciled in England or Wales and has been residing there for at least six months immediately before the divorce application is issued;
  • You or your spouse were habitually resident in England or Wales last and one of you still lives here.

The term ‘Domicile’ can be a difficult concept to grasp. Simply speaking, it is the Country and legal system you are primarily linked to. This is commonly your Country of birth. However, it can change to where a person is living or may live in the future.

‘Habitual residency’ is a term used to describe where a person is living as their settled home.

If one of the above five eligibility criteria can be satisfied, an Expat may be able to apply for a divorce in England and Wales.

Divorce considerations for UK Expats

Before applying for a divorce in the UK, there are a number of considerations for UK Expats in order to determine whether this is the best course of action. This includes:-

  • Alternative Countries to start a divorce – if you or your spouse are an Expat living overseas, you may also be eligible to apply for a divorce in the Country where either of you are residing in addition to England and Wales. Different Countries have different laws relating to divorce and so it is important to seek independent legal advice from a divorce lawyer in all applicable Countries to establish the best Country in which to start the divorce application;
  • Where are the assets of the marriage located – as well as dealing with the divorce proceedings, most separating couples also have assets to divide between them on separation whether that be property, savings, investments, businesses and/or pensions. It is important to identify and disclose to the family lawyer you consult what the asset base is and where it is located. The Country within which the assets are based, could impact upon which Country should deal with any financial applications linked to the divorce.
  • Where you intend to live during and after the divorce – it is important to think about where you intend to live whilst the divorce is being processed which in this Country, for example, can take 6-12 months, and also where you would like to reside once the divorce has been finalised. Both of these questions are vital to understanding what your short- and long-term financial needs will be as these will need to be factored into any interim or final financial settlement between you and your spouse.
  • Relocation of children – one issue that can arise between Expat parents going through a separation is that one parent wishes to remain living overseas and the other parent wishes to return to the UK. It is important to note that if, as a family, you are settled in a Country overseas i.e. ‘habitually resident’ there, it is the family court in that Country that will determine any dispute between parents as to where any child shall live following divorce. This is a complex area of law and one which requires specialist legal advice.

Other Practical considerations

If you do decide that England and Wales is the most appropriate jurisdiction within which to start a divorce, there are some practical considerations worth considering:

  • Time differences – depending upon which Country you reside in, there may be a significant time difference between you and your family solicitor in England. From the outset, make sure that the time difference is noted and agree with your divorce lawyer how you can ensure deadlines are met and you do not have the stress of having to deal with matters at the eleventh hour.
  • Building a professional relationship – whilst professional relationships can be built remotely, many clients and also lawyers find that their relationship benefits from some face to face meetings. Think about the possibility of travelling to England for an in person meeting with your family lawyer if feasible, or if not, ask about the possibility of scheduling regular video calls.
  • Secure communication – if you’re living abroad, you’re unlikely to be dropping in original documents to your solicitor’s office or popping them in the post. Consider how you would like to deliver sensitive documents and also how you would like to receive them. Through the latest technology, sensitive electronic documents can be shared between you. It is important that you have a secure email address to which your solicitor can correspond with you.
  • Regional Family Courts – whilst there is a central family court for starting the divorce application, there are regional family courts throughout the Country that deal with financial applications associated with the divorce. It is important to therefore consider where a financial application would be issued, if you and your spouse were unable to agree upon a financial settlement. Commonly, it is the location of the family home which may not apply in Expat divorces. You may want to start an application near where your family reside or where your solicitor is based. Speak to your solicitor about where they would advise the financial application is made.

If you or your spouse are an Expat and you are considering starting a divorce in the UK, our specialist international family solicitors can advise you on next steps.

We believe we’re the best at what we do. To speak to one of our experienced Expat family lawyers, please call us on 0113 322 9222 or at

You may also want to have a look at our blog Divorce with an International Element and our page on International Family Law.

*Divorce laws differ in different Countries within the UK and for the purpose of this article we are solely referring to obtaining a divorce in England and Wales.