Joanne Major, leading female lawyer with Major Family Law, the North East’s divorce and children’s specialists comments in the North East Times that modern life and the modern world means increased social mobility and opportunities for families to live and work abroad, and to own property in other countries.

Many family units have an international element to them, whether by virtue of the nationalities of the parties to the marriage, or because of where they have chosen to work and live.

Sadly, when problems arise within the family and relationships break down, it can be hard to know who to turn to for reliable and effective advice. Knowing which local laws and procedures apply and what rights you have can be confusing, complicated and seemingly impossible to understand.

It’s not just language that can create barriers to getting the support you need: cultural differences, and lack of expert knowledge can also result in poor or incorrect advice.

Getting early, authoritative advice can be a game changer in many situations, particularly where the parties are residing in a country where the relevant laws are particularly prejudicial to one of the parties.

Knowing which country’s laws apply and whether there is a choice of jurisdiction can affect a number of aspects to the relationship breakdown from where to commence divorce proceedings (and why), to the right to return home with the children, and entitlement to financial provision.

What may surprise many people is that for the purposes of family law, anything outside of England & Wales is considered a different jurisdiction and is subject to different laws.

Equally, many people believe (wrongly) that once they have moved abroad, they can no longer issue divorce – or other – proceedings in an English Court. In fact, the choice of where the proceedings are issued (known as forum shopping) can be vital, not just because the grounds for divorce vary from country to country, but because the respective laws relating to financial provision and entitlement also vary widely.

For this reason, it is not unheard of for couples to spend considerable amounts arguing over which country should have jurisdiction of the divorce proceedings. Within the European Union (except for Denmark), it is the case that the country in which the proceedings are first issued has jurisdiction, and therefore it can become a race to issue proceedings before the other party.

Whilst all this sounds extremely cynical, it is a real and relevant consideration for many separating families, and with three times more British people living as expats in Spain than any other EU country, it is particularly relevant for residents of the Costas.

Having recognised this, Major Family Law ensure that their clients have access to immediate and expert advice specific to their individual circumstances. Advice and representation is available from our team of expert lawyers even if the parties are resident abroad, thanks to our use of Skype, Facetime, video conferencing and other digital means of communication.

In addition, we are uniquely placed to offer clients local support and advice on Spanish law thanks to our reciprocal relationship with an established firm of Spanish Lawyers who have branches in Madrid, Malaga and Marbella as well as internationally, ensuring that Spanish resident expats can access the advice they need locally from English speaking lawyers in addition our advice on English law.

With a reputation for expertise in high net worth financial cases, and matters involving complex business issues, we can advise on all aspects of family and matrimonial law. Our experience in dealing with cross-border issues and our ability to conduct cases with clients based nationally and internationally make us the first port of call in international waters.

Joanne Major is the Principal with Major Family Law, the Divorce and Family Law Specialists, 12 West Road, Ponteland, Newcastle Upon Tyne. T: 01661 82 45 82 Twitter: @majorfamilylaw

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