Cross-Border Divorce – where does jurisdiction lie?

Former couples can obtain divorces in almost any country to which they have a sufficiently close connection and that is a frequent source of jurisdictional disputes. In one case, the High Court found that a woman had wrongly been granted an English divorce after her marriage had already been brought to an end by a French court.

The ex-couple, who had two children, were French nationals but had homes in both England and France. Some years after their separation, the husband obtained a divorce in France. The wife, who had settled in England, obtained a decree nisi from an English court about a year later. That decree was later made absolute.

The husband’s application to have the French divorce recognised in England was subsequently upheld by a district judge. The wife, however, appealed on the basis that she had not received proper notice of the French proceedings and that the husband was aware of the proceedings in England. She argued that, in those circumstances, the English decrees should be allowed to stand.

In dismissing her appeal, however, the Court found that she had chosen not to take part in the French proceedings, although she had known about them several months before the French divorce was finalised. There was evidence that the English court did not have all relevant information before it when it granted the decrees. In those circumstances, the French divorce had rightly been recognised in England and the decrees nisi and absolute were null and void.