16th November 2017


I married my spouse in our home country and we then moved to England to live permanently. Our relationship has now broken down and I want a divorce, do I have to start the divorce proceedings in my home country?


Where a marriage has taken place in another country, it does not mean that the divorce must take place in the same country. Generally, a foreign marriage will be considered valid in England provided that it was carried out in accordance with the local custom and it complied with the relevant procedures and law for the country in which it took place.

You will be able to start divorce proceedings in England & Wales if either you or your spouse has the right to reside in England and intend to stay here. This is known as habitual residence. You can also start the divorce proceedings in England & Wales even if yourself or your spouse has moved away, as long as one of you is habitually resident in England.

To issue the application for divorce in England, you will need to provide the Court with your marriage certificate. If your marriage certificate is not in English, the Court will require a certified translation of the marriage certificate. This means that it will have to be translated by a professional and marked as a certified translation. The translation will need to be sent to the Court at the same time as your application to start the divorce proceedings.

If you do not have the original marriage certificate, you should try to obtain it but if this is not possible you can contact the Registrar or relevant local authority in the country you were married in to obtain an official copy. The copy must be marked to certify that it is a true copy of the original, it cannot normally be a simple photocopy.

There are some situations where it might not be possible to obtain the original certificate or a certified copy. This does not mean that you will be completely barred from starting divorce proceedings. In some exceptional circumstances, the English Court can decide whether or not to recognise a foreign marriage without a certificate. It may be that the Court will accept a photocopy of the marriage certificate where there is no other possibility to obtain the original. Asking the Court to recognise a foreign marriage without the original marriage certificate or a certified copy requires an additional application which can delay the divorce process. You should speak to a solicitor if you want to start divorce proceedings but cannot obtain the marriage certificate.

Ben Hoare Bell LLP has a specialist International Family department who can advise you on issues such as this. To speak to a solicitor please phone 0191 275 2626 or email advice@benhoarebell.co.uk

Please note that this advice was correct at the time of writing. However there may have been changes in the law or procedure since that date. If you are in doubt you should obtain up to date legal advice.