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How to Plan for International Divorce 

Considering your Children & Assets in Northern Ireland

The headline-grabbing divorce of Game of Thrones actor Sophie Turner and singer-songwriter Joe Jonas has helped highlight just how fiendishly complex international divorces can be.

While not everyone will have the same level of fame or the deep pockets of this globally famous celebrity couple, international divorce is nevertheless a real problem faced by many people and one that throws up serious hurdles when children and significant assets are involved. 

In this article, Partner Ciara Brolly explores the elements you should consider when planning for an international divorce involving children and assets in Northern Ireland. She explains the divorce process in Northern Ireland, addresses whether your divorce needs to follow the jurisdiction of your partner and discusses what could potentially happen with your children, marital assets and the family home, all while managing these matters from overseas.

What does the divorce process in Northern Ireland involve?

In Northern Ireland, divorce is governed by what is known as the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order 1978. The process begins with lodging a petition to the relevant court citing the marriage has irretrievably broken down and the reasons for this.

Unlike England and Wales, where a No-Fault Divorce law was introduced in 2022, there is only one ground for divorce in Northern Ireland: the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This must be proven by establishing one of five facts: 

1- Adultery 
2- Unreasonable behaviour 
3- Desertion 
4- Separation for two years with consent
5- Separation for five years without consent

If you lodge the petition, you are known as the petitioner; your spouse is then known as the respondent, and they are required to respond to your petition.

There are two stages to the divorce: the decree nisi hearing and the application for the decree absolute. Northern Ireland still has a solemn process, in that the Petitioner will attend court to adopt their evidence for the nisi hearing.

Once the decree absolute is granted by the court, the divorce is finalised in law.

Divorcing in Northern Ireland: Does your partner’s jurisdiction determine the outcome?

First, a general note on jurisdiction: to file for divorce in Northern Ireland, either you or your spouse must have lived here for at least one year immediately before filing the divorce petition. If both parties have lived in Northern Ireland for at least six months, either of you can apply.

When it comes to international divorces, many people wonder if the process needs to follow the jurisdiction of their partner, especially when they reside in different countries. In Northern Ireland, the divorce process does not need to follow your partner’s jurisdiction. 

As mentioned above, you can file for divorce in Northern Ireland if you meet the residency requirements, regardless of where your spouse resides. However, the practical aspects of the divorce process –  such as serving divorce papers and child custody matters – can become more complicated when you and your partner live in different countries.

International Divorces: Dealing with Children, Marital Assets & the Family Home

When you are facing an international divorce that involves your children and/or significant marital assets, it’s crucial that you consider the best interests of your children and the equitable distribution of the marital assets. 

Here’s how these aspects are typically handled:

1- Children: The welfare of children is the top priority in divorce cases. Northern Ireland, like many jurisdictions, encourages parents to reach an agreement on child custody, visitation and financial support through mediation or negotiation. This can become particularly complex and emotive if you or your spouse want to relocate to a different country with your children. If an agreement cannot be reached, the court will make decisions based on the best interests of your children, taking into account their ages, needs and wishes.

2- Marital assets: In Northern Ireland, you and your spouse will be required to divide marital assets fairly, but not necessarily equally. This includes property, savings, pensions and other assets acquired during your marriage. It’s essential that you document and disclose all assets accurately during the divorce process.

3- The Family Home: The family home is often a significant asset and an emotional point of contention between divorcing spouses. Northern Ireland courts may consider the needs of your children and the ability of the custodial parent to remain in the family home when making decisions about the disposition of the home.

Navigating the Divorce Process: How to Manage an International Divorce Overseas

Not being a resident in the country of the jurisdiction in which your divorce is taking place adds additional layers of complication to the process. Managing an international divorce from overseas therefore requires careful planning and coordination. 

Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Consult a solicitor specialising in family law: Hire a solicitor, preferably one experienced in international divorces, who can guide you through the process and help you understand the legal aspects specific to your situation.
  2. Communication: Wherever possible, try and maintain open and respectful communication with your spouse, especially if you have children together. It is important that you attempt to reach amicable agreements whenever possible.
  3. Financial and property documentation: Gather all financial and property documents, including bank statements, deeds and investment records, to ensure that your marital assets can be accurately assessed. This ensures the most fair outcome for you and your spouse.
  4. Child custody arrangements: Work with your solicitor to establish a suitable child custody and visitation plan, always keeping the best interests of your children in mind.
  5. Seek mediation: Consider mediation or alternative dispute resolution methods to resolve disagreements with your spouse, which can be more cost-effective and less adversarial than litigation.

Key Takeaways

Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas may have showcased the complexities of international divorce, but this process is a reality for many couples with children and assets spread across borders. In Northern Ireland, the divorce process can be navigated independently of your partner’s jurisdiction, but it requires careful planning, legal guidance and consideration of the welfare of your children and the equitable distribution of your marital assets. 

With the right approach and professional assistance, an international divorce can be managed from overseas while minimising stress and ensuring the best possible outcome for all parties involved, starting with your children.

If you are contemplating an international divorce or have been served with a divorce petition involving an international element, the Wilson Nesbitt team is here to help – we have many years of experience in helping clients navigate the divorce process across different borders.


Is my Overseas Divorce recognised in Northern Ireland?

This depends on the country in which your divorce took place and whether it involved ‘formal proceedings’, i.e. the court system of the respective country. A divorce that involved an administrative process (this might, for example, include a religious divorce) and was conducted by a body other than the court will not be recognised.

Whether your overseas divorce is recognised in NI also depends greatly on where you have been living (your habitual residence or domicile). If you were a national of the country in which you got divorced and the formal proceedings were completed so your divorce was effective in that country, then this will be recognised in Northern Ireland. In addition, if either you or your spouse were living in that overseas country at the date the proceedings were initiated, your divorce would also be recognised in Northern Ireland.

How long does it take to get an International Divorce in Northern Ireland?

This depends on the particulars of your case and also the timetable of the court, but you should probably expect it to take at least four to six months. If you are the petitioner, you must wait for at least six weeks and one day after the decree nisi is pronounced before you can apply for the decree absolute. However, the fact is that this can take much longer, and applying for it too early can affect the outcome of your financial settlement.

Your solicitor will guide you through the process, step by step, once the circumstances are known and keep you up to date on its progress.

How much is an International Divorce likely to cost?

Again, estimates depend on the particulars of your case. Once these are known, your solicitor will provide a cost estimate if your case is straightforward, or if not, provide a guide as to the cost. If the divorce is contested or becomes protracted, your solicitor may have to make additional applications to the court, for instance, to prove service of your divorce papers on the other party, which adds to your costs.

Wilson Nesbitt offers monthly billing for our clients. For a fault-based divorce, you may seek to have the party at fault pay for the divorce; if this is awarded by the court, you may recoup your costs from the other party.

Can I divorce my spouse in Northern Ireland if they live overseas?

The short answer is yes. You can file for divorce in Northern Ireland if you meet the residency requirements, regardless of where your spouse resides. To file for divorce in Northern Ireland, either you must have lived here for at least one year immediately before filing the divorce petition. If both parties have lived in Northern Ireland for at least six months, either of you can apply.

Get in Touch

If you’re recently separated and need help to finalise a divorce or in the process of a relationship breakdown, get in touch with Ciara and our team.

We help families navigate the difficulties of separation with practical, compassionate advice.

Call us on 028 9022 7808 or make an online enquiry today.

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