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If you wished to instigate divorce proceedings, but your spouse lives in another country (or vice versa), you may still be able to use a Family Court in the UK.
So long as either you or your spouse (or both) are ‘habitually resident’ in England and Wales, or you have been habitually resident in England and Wales for at least a year prior to the issuing of the petition, you may apply the English jurisdiction. Habitual residence is considered by the courts to be the place where you have your closest ties. For most people, this is where you live and work – the place you call home. Your habitual residence is referred to as such if it is a place that you reside in regularly – you can only be habitually resident in one location at any one time.
The only thing you should note is that where your spouse lives abroad, you may find that it takes slightly longer to conclude your matter by virtue of delays caused by the Court serving the documents to them by international post.
The UK does recognise marriages where the wedding ceremony took place abroad, however the law in this regard is not clear cut. To determine the validity of a marriage entered into abroad, the law is divided in two categories; ‘formal validity of the marriage’ and the ‘essential validity of the marriage’.
The Formal Validity of the marriage generally means that if the legal requirements of the country or place that the marriage was entered into were complied with, then the marriage is valid and you will be able to instigate divorce proceedings in the English Courts. If, however, the legal requirements of the place were not complied with at the time the parties were married, the marriage would usually not be valid by the English Court, thus meaning the English Court would not accept your petition for divorce.
Having said the above, the meanings of the above considerations have been under scrutiny. Even if your marriage has been declared as invalid by the law of the country that the marriage was entered into, a spouse could still seek relief from the English Court, but by way of a petition for nullity. Nullity of marriage is a declaration by a court that your supposed marriage is null and void, and that no valid marriage exists between you and your partner. In other words, it is a declaration that the supposed marriage never happened.
Nullity (or annulment) is not the same as divorce. Divorce is a declaration ending a valid marriage. Nullity is a declaration that a valid marriage never existed.
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