There are a number of factors that need to be considered by spouses from a matrimonial perspective when they come to live in the UK. We highlight a number of these below.
Even if a large part of your assets are in trust and legally not yours, they are not entirely free from the English court’s scrutiny
The moment you step off the plane in England/Wales, you are subject to the UK jurisdiction for the purposes of divorce.
If both spouses are habitually resident in England/Wales, either will be entitled to issue divorce proceedings in this jurisdiction, which, for the financially stronger party, is likely to result in a far less favourable outcome in the financial proceedings than if proceedings were issued in their country of nationality, domicile or previous residence. Just because you were married abroad does not mean that any divorce will be dealt with abroad or will be governed by what you might think as your home legislation. Around one sixth of divorce cases before the London courts involve foreign nationals.
Provision on divorce for the financially weaker spouse (usually the wife) is very generous in the English courts.
London has earned a reputation as being the divorce capital of the world for high net worth divorces. This is unsurprising given the generous divorce payouts which have been awarded by judges to the financially weaker party, compared to the relatively limited awards in other jurisdictions in Europe and throughout the rest of the world. The judges in this country have extremely wide discretion when deciding how assets should be divided upon divorce and their start point is generally one of equality, particularly in big asset cases. The approach is no longer geared towards meeting reasonable needs and instead towards sharing.
Arrangements which you may have put in place in your own jurisdiction are not necessarily watertight if you become a resident in England/Wales.
If you have entered into a pre or post nuptial agreement in your country of domicile, nationality or previous residence to try to protect your wealth on divorce, whilst it may be binding in that jurisdiction, judges here have the power to decide whether it should be binding on parties on divorce. If you anticipate a move to the UK in the foreseeable future, you should enter into a pre or post nuptial agreement in this country which might mirror that of the original agreement to increase the likelihood of it being upheld.
The law in respect of cohabitants in this country is very different to the law in respect of married couples.
Many unmarried couples believe they have protection as a common law wife/husband. This is a myth. It is not uncommon for one partner on the breakdown of the relationship to be left with little or nothing irrespective of whether they have lived together for 2 or 20 years. Generally, each partner keeps their own assets, even if that includes the family home. The best way to protect your financial interests and to avoid a dispute about jointly owned property is through a formal document such as a cohabitation agreement or declaration of trust.
Your assets are not necessarily protected on divorce if they are held in a family trust.
Even if a large part of your assets are in trust and legally not yours, they are not entirely free from the English court’s scrutiny. The court is capable of seeking to oblige the disclosure of trust documents and to treat the trust as a spouse’s resource.