The principle that British persons divorced abroad can look to the courts in England and Wales to ensure that their ‘reasonable needs’ are met in the divorce settlement has been firmly established following a recent case involving a divorced couple who both hold joint British and Nigerian nationality.
The case involved a Nigerian couple who had met in England in 1967 but spent most of their 38-year marriage living in Nigeria, where their divorce was heard. The couple became British Citizens in 1972. In 1975, the husband had bought a house in London, where the couple’s children lived in the care of a nanny. The couple separated in 1999 and the wife went to live with the children in England. Divorce proceedings were begun in Nigeria in 2003. These were completed in 2005 and the judge awarded the ex-wife a life interest in a house in Lagos and a lump sum of £21,000.
The ex-wife applied to the High Court in London for permission to bring an application for relief under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, which is aimed at addressing cases of hardship and serious injustice that can occur if a foreign court fails, for whatever reason, to make an order regarding assets held in England or Wales. The Court awarded her 65 per cent of the proceeds of sale of the house in London – approximately £275,000 – in order to enable her to live and maintain herself in England. This decision has now been upheld by the Supreme Court. She was, however, ordered to relinquish her interest in the property in Lagos.
In many foreign countries, financial settlements for ex-spouses on divorce are less generous than in the UK, so this decision means, in practice, that there is greater protection than before for spouses divorced abroad who have substantial connections here. The amount of financial provision awarded will depend on all the circumstances of the individual case.