Brexit and Divorce – New Rules to Apply to International Divorces

Divorcing couples with cross-border connections have become subject to new rules following the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Here, Anthony Jones looks at the ways in which Brexit will affect divorce proceedings and related family law matters.

Whilst the UK was a member of the EU, couples with connections to both the UK and another EU country who were commencing divorce proceedings may well have undergone a ‘jurisdiction race’ – with whichever country’s court was first to begin the proceedings then that court would deal with the divorce and subsequent financial proceedings.

For divorces commenced from 1st January 2021, different rules apply. The deciding factor is now ‘closest connection’, with factors including the location(s) of the couple’s main home, where they work and where their children attend school now being the main considerations.

This may have an impact on the financially weaker spouse within a relationship. English judges have a wide discretion in terms of the financial orders that they can make on divorce, which often prompted spouses to be keen to start divorce proceedings in the UK and therefore be subject to UK laws and the UK family court system.

It could also be that there is a court battle on jurisdiction to resolve before divorce proceedings can even begin, making it likely that the process will take longer overall.

Where divorce proceedings began before 31 December 2020, these can continue in the country they started.

For divorces beginning on or after 1 January 2021, it’s important to note that not all EU states will automatically recognise your divorce and a Recognition of Divorce may need to be sought. The divorce will be recognised by the 12 EU member states that signed the 1970 Hague Convention on the Recognition of Divorces and Legal Separations, but the remaining states may not recognise a divorce granted in the UK.

Financial proceedings and the enforcement of any financial orders are likely to become more complex, although the EU has indicated that UK orders which were made (or applied for) before 31 December 2020 will still be enforced. Individuals with connections to an EU country should seek specialist legal advice, particularly where significant assets or a UK pensions is involved.

The new rules brought about by Brexit are likely to make UK-EU divorces more complex. If you or your spouse has EU connections, it’s vital to seek advice from experienced family lawyers, both in the UK and the other relevant EU country.

Anthony Jones is Head of Family Law and is a Resolution Accredited Specialist. For more information or a second opinion, please contact him on 01457 761320 or email anthony@odonnellsolicitors.co.uk