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Will English law recognise foreign divorces?

The recognition of foreign divorce can affect the ability to remarry and issues such as wills, inheritance, nationality, welfare benefits and the status of any children.

It can also affect what financial relief can be obtained from the courts.

So, what are the rules?

A divorce obtained by a civil court in the UK will be recognised in England. Non-court granted divorce, eg religious Sharia divorces or Beth Din divorces will not usually be recognised.

Where you have been divorced in a court in the European Union and that divorce is compliant with the laws of another member state, then that will almost usually be automatically recognised in England. A Certificate of Divorce is valid across the whole of the European Union.

Problems do arise when you have been divorced outside the European Union. The question then arises whether the divorce was obtained by what we define as “proceedings” or any other means.

So proceedings here include divorces obtained through the courts, but can also include non-court proceedings abroad as well, depending on the degree of that country’s State involvement.

If the foreign divorce is obtained by way of what we define as proceedings, then usually it’s recognised in England, but it must be valid in the country in which it was obtained and at the time of the divorce one of the spouses must have been resident or domiciled or a national of the country in which it was obtained and almost axiomatically both spouses must have had notice of the proceedings.

Where the divorce hasn’t been obtained through proceedings, then, there are tougher rules.

So neither spouse can be habitually resident in the UK for a year before they divorce. Both parties must be domiciled in the country in which they were divorced, or in a country that recognises that form of divorce.

To be recognised, the divorce should have been started and finished in the same country.

Sometimes there are public policy issues as to why we would not recognise a foreign divorce, but that is not a common occurrence.