International divorce – What exactly is “forum shopping”?

by Tim Bishop on October 30, 2013

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It is possible for divorcing couples and their lawyers to choose which country they would likely to bring divorce proceedings in through a process called ‘forum shopping’. It may be the case that multiple jurisdictions are appropriate for the particular disputes involved in a secure divorce – and as a result, each spouse may be able to find a country where the divorce process is more favourable to their individual position. The process of forum shopping allows each spouse to start proceedings in their country of choice before the court decides which country is best placed to handle the case.

When deciding between courts within the UK, hierarchical criteria will be considered. If deciding between courts in EU member states, the court where the international divorce proceedings were filed first will hear the case. Where there is a choice between a UK court and a European court, the court with the closest ties to the family is likely to be chosen but various other criteria will be considered as well.

Regrettably, forum disputes tend to come down to tactics and one-upmanship which UK divorce law has done so well to marginalise in recent years. Those considering forum shopping must carefully analyse the costs and benefits. Whilst it may bring certain financial advantages, it can be very expensive and can cause you and your wider family enormous stress. It can also be time consuming and can deflect attention away from other important parts of the divorce process.

Below is a list of things that you might wish to bear in mind when choosing the country in which you decide to bring divorce proceedings:

• Travel, expense and the foreign language barrier. All of these things can make the process unmanageable

• Will any financial order made overseas actually be legally binding in the jurisdiction in which the assets are actually held?

• Will the court consider the marriage valid in the first place and have the authority to make judgements?

• Are there any pre-marital agreements which prevent the division of certain assets?

• Will the divorce be considered valid in other countries you may move to and perhaps choose to marry in?

• Domicile: if you are in a country with a federal system such as Switzerland or the US, every state will have different laws. Furthermore, your domicile[i.e. the country in which you are considered to be living] could greatly affect your immigration status or nationality

• How significant are the court’s powers to force disclosure? Many spouses will attempt to hide assets or quickly move them around the world. In the UK the courts can compel you disclose but if a foreign court does not do this, you may find that you are actually losing money rather than saving it

• If you put your divorce through a foreign jurisdiction to make a financial order, you may find that the foreign court ends up encroaching into other areas of your divorce as well, including child custody disputes.

Whether or not you decide to issue your divorce in a foreign court, any family breakdown involving international issues is going to require a family law and divorce lawyer specialising in international divorce.

Tim Bishop is senior partner of Bonallack & Bishop – specialist family lawyers. To learn more about divorce and foreign nationality, visit their divorce website at or call them on 01722 422300.

Tim Bishop
Having qualified as a Solicitor in 1986, Tim Bishop is a legal entrepreneur who owns law firm Bonallack & Bishop. Find out why you should choose the solicitors at Bonallack & Bishop: Visit
Tim Bishop

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