London “Divorce Capital of the World” – a warning to overseas workers


London remains an attractive destination for overseas professionals, especially those in the banking and financial sectors. While some financial institutions talk about moving their operations out of London to other European cities because of the uncertainty of Brexit, London will almost certainly remain a major financial hub and be attractive to overseas professionals. Many of those moving to London will come with their families.

Brussels II: first come, first served

Families will not move to London thinking about the possibility of divorce, but it is not something that should be ignored. The English court has jurisdiction to deal with a divorce as soon as both spouses become “habitually resident in England and Wales” which can be as soon as they have set up home in London. England (for the time being at least)  is a signatory to the “Brussels II” convention which means that if the family has come from another European country which is also a signatory, then if the divorce petition is issued first in England then England has exclusive jurisdiction to deal with divorce on a “first come, first served” basis.  Even if the family has come from a non-Brussels II country, the English court does not like jurisdiction fights and often will still apply the “first come, first served” principle.

London has been called “the divorce capital of the world” because of the size of awards in “big money divorces”. The English court has a wide discretion on divorce to make financial awards – the starting point is usually an equal division of all assets that have been built up during a marriage (which will include a family home even if it has been bought using premarital wealth) with the possibility of an open-ended maintenance (alimony) order as well.

Prenuptial and postnuptial contracts

The English court will usually uphold prenuptial and postnuptial contracts whether English or foreign so anyone coming to London from overseas who has a contract should be confident that the agreement will be upheld if the marriage breaks down, although it would be sensible to have it reviewed by an English family lawyer. However, English courts often do not uphold simple marriage contracts common in many European countries where people choose to contract out of a marital property regime when they marry as they do not fulfil the criteria that an English court regards as necessary for a prenuptial or postnuptial contract, e.g. each side having independent legal advice and giving financial disclosure.

If you are moving to London for work with your family, it would be sensible to obtain family law advice. Even if you are coming to London and your family is going to stay in your homeland, you should still take advice because if you become habitually resident in England your spouse can issue a divorce petition once you have been resident here 12 months.

If you require family law advice following relocation to the UK or in relation to Family Relationships & Divorce more widely, please email Philip Rutter. Alternatively, telephone 020 7631 4141 and ask to speak to a member of the Family team.


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