Court declines jurisdiction in expat divorce

Posted: 5th July 2013

Palm treesThe estranged wife of an expatriate businessman has been left ‘without a penny’ of his fortune after the English courts declined jurisdiction to grant her a divorce on the basis that the former couple had their permanent and habitual residence and fixed centre of interests in Spain.

The husband, a British citizen, owned an extensive portfolio of properties in England and Spain all of which were held in his sole name. The couple had lived in Spain throughout their two-year marriage and, following the break-down of the relationship, the husband had expressed determination that his wife would receive none of his assets.

The wife initially secured a decree nisi in England after arguing that, whilst she and her husband had lived abroad, he had continued to regard himself as a British resident. Her lawyers pointed, amongst other things, to email traffic in which he had made derogatory remarks about Spain and the Spanish.

But the decree nisi was subsequently overturned by a family judge who ruled that the husband had turned his back on England and had established his home and main sphere of interest in Spain. The judge in part based her decision on a letter written by the husband in which he stated that he ‘could not put up with the English weather’ and had no plans to move back to the UK.

The judge found that, although the husband had expressed a dislike of Spain in forceful terms on many occasions, and may have contemplated a return to the UK, he had made no concrete plans to do so. Amongst other things, the wife argued before the Court of Appeal  that the majority of the husband’s assets were in Hampshire and that he had many family and other connections there.

Refusing to grant the wife permission to appeal, however, the Appeal Court ruled that the family judge had carefully balanced all the factors for and against the husband’s residence in England. The ruling means that the former couple remain married and that the English courts will not consider the wife’s claim to a share of her husband’s assets.