International Family Law Explained

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Portrait Of Happy Family In Garden

International Relocation is Increasingly Common. What Are the Legal Implications?

Today, it is as common to move around the world as around the country. But leaving the jurisdiction of England and Wales brings new considerations in the area of family law.

In our globally connected society, the world really does seem a smaller place. Businesses operate across national borders and budget airlines have made other countries accessible to all. Today’s London professionals are likely to visit New York or Dubai for business or pleasure in the same way that their parents and grandparents visited Bath or Leeds.

It is of little surprise, then, that so many families relocate from one country to another for both personal and professional reasons. Of course, living permanently in another country can bring far more challenges to our London professionals than a move within the UK brought to past generations, and these can be seriously exacerbated if some change arises in family circumstances, such as a marriage or divorce.

Family law in particular is an area that is predominantly defined by national boundaries, so the rules regarding marriage, prenuptial agreements, civil partnerships, separation and divorce – and indeed consequential considerations like childcare, access and division of assets – are highly variable from one country to another.

Volumes of stress and heartache can be saved if you speak to a London family law firm at the earliest opportunity to understand the legal implications of any proposed move.

Here are three areas that many people need to consider, and that are often poorly understood.

Taking the children

Family units are more complex than ever, and many people have custody of children from a marriage that has now ended. Is it OK to take them for a new life overseas?

If the other parent does not agree to it, then the short answer is usually “no” – and to do so without the other parent’s content could lead to criminal proceedings for child abduction.

Always get the other parent’s consent before taking your child overseas, even if it is just for a holiday.

If you do ask for permission and are told “no”, don’t necessarily be disheartened.  There are many cases in which a move abroad is allowed by the courts despite opposition from one parent – yours may be one of them.  A London family law firm can advise whether you might be able to move after all.

Country of divorce

There is a common myth that a divorce has to take place in the same country as the marriage. This is not so: an individual can file for divorce in the country where he or she now resides. If you are in doubt as to where to commence proceedings, it is particularly important to seek legal advice as there are pros and cons to different jurisdictions depending on a number of factors.

Of course, you might not be faced with that choice if your husband or wife acts first and commences proceedings in another country. It can be a shock to be suddenly served with court papers, particularly from overseas, but if this does happen, the golden rule is not to sign anything until you have taken legal advice and to take that legal advice as quickly as possible. Countries have varying timeframes for responding to paperwork and if you are slow to respond, you might find decisions taken out of your hands.

Overseas assets

There is a misguided belief that because assets are in another country they in some way do not count in divorce settlements and are out of the reach of the UK legal system. This is not the case, as the English court has the power to make an Order relating to assets just about anywhere in the world.  An international freezing injunction  may be required if you worry about someone disposing of assets. These injunctions can be issued without notice and very quickly.

Even if both parties agree on the fate of certain assets, take local advice before signing or transferring anything to ensure that tax and other implications are fully understood.

Family law can get very complex when there are cross border considerations, so always consult with a legal professional with experience in this field.

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