Read what our Principal, Joanne Major of Major Family Law, the best divorce and family law specialists, Newcastle says in this month’s Luxe Magazine:

Joanne Major - Major Family Law

You’ve moved abroad to follow your dream. Or your spouse’s dream. Or at the very least a contract of employment. There are many reasons couples and families are choosing to leave this country and live abroad, and it’s not always just for the better weather.

But like the best reality tv shows, these things don’t always worked out as planned, and when the dream turns sour, moving out and moving on takes on an international element.

Chances are, most English couples would assume that because they’re English (and probably married here), that the natural choice of forum for divorce proceedings, financial settlement, or issues over the children would be in the English courts, but this is far from the case.

Where the parties are, or have been, living within the European Union, EU regulation 2201/2003, commonly known as Brussels II Revised (B2R), governs family law disputes to determine which country (legal jurisdiction) should have precedence over hearing a case. In very basic terms, it provides that the jurisdiction where proceedings are lodged first will have deal with the case.

The result is to effectively create a race to issue proceedings between separating couples. The reason for this is that different EU jurisdictions vary widely in their approach and generosity to economically dependent spouses, and therefore it pays to choose a jurisdiction favourable to the particular applicant’s circumstances, which in turn are likely to be very different between an estranged husband and wife.

Different countries approach the financial arrangements between couples on divorce in very different ways. Procedures also vary from country to country, particularly in relation to disclosure of financial affairs. This means that a couple with the same financial resources (house, other capital, income and pensions) could end up with very different financial arrangements if their divorce is dealt with in England than if it were dealt with, for example, in France or one of the US states.

So how do you know where you should issue divorce proceedings at all? It would be easy to assume that the appropriate place for the divorce to take place would be the country where your marriage took place; you are citizens or lived your married life; or you are living at the time of the breakdown of the marriage. However, this is too simplistic and it would be wrong to make any assumptions. There are many international families who will find that more than one country may be able to deal with the issues arising on divorce.

As with all legal matters, it is vital to seek early advice from a lawyer with experience in the field. Where children are involved, this is particularly the case before any decisions about moving out and “returning home” are made, because leaving a country with children where the other parent is not in agreement constitutes child abduction in a number of countries.

For those living abroad at the time of separation, it’s especially important to ensure that advice is sought from a lawyer who can speak the same language and who can advise in relation to the law both locally and in respect of the individual’s “home” country. A daunting prospect perhaps, but in this age of digital technology, it is entirely possible to seek advice from specialist lawyers like ourselves while residing in another country thanks to video conferencing. As an additional level of expertise and service to our clients, we have links with legal practices in other countries, all of whom have English speaking advisers available, so you never have to feel stranded and alone.

Image by Jitze Couperus via Flickr (Creative Commons)