Access to UK justice in divorce cases

Nicola Furmston

British people living abroad often assume that if they want to they will be able to access the UK justice system, even though they may have lived for many years elsewhere and ceased paying UK tax and National Insurance. However the Foreign Office has now warned expatriates who live in the United Arab Emirates that they could face Sharia courts in divorce or child custody cases, even where they are not Muslim. Depending on the particular circumstances of the case this may leave no scope for accessing the British legal system.

Country of domicile and habitual residence

Access to UK justice in divorce cases is linked to the concepts of domicile (where your permanent home is or the country with which you have substantial links) and habitual residence (where you routinely reside). There are time periods over which you and/or your spouse must have lived in the UK before you can petition for divorce in this country.

Speed is of the essence. It may be possible for proceedings to be issued in different countries between the parties but eventually there must be a decision over which country will hear the case and often the first to petition wins the day.

Separated people with links to more than one country, particularly where one of those countries operates under a vastly different set of laws and cultural concepts to the UK should take urgent legal advice to establish which legal forum will suit their needs best.
Nicola Furmston is a solicitor specialising in the family field at Barker Gotelee, Solicitors in Ipswich.