Should British Expats Divorce in Singapore or England?

Last updated on February 6, 2020

torn photo of a couple.

A court’s ability to deal with a divorce is called its “jurisdiction”. For British expatriates in Singapore, a divorce can typically proceed either in the Singapore or English jurisdiction.

Choosing the appropriate jurisdiction for divorce is important. This is because the family courts in each country have developed different rules which guide their exercise of dividing assets and income during a divorce. This can affect the financial outcome of a divorce as a result.

This article will discuss:

When Can a British Expatriate Divorce in Singapore?

Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to divorce in the country in which you were married.

In order for British expatriates to commence divorce proceedings in Singapore:

  • One of the parties must have been habitually resident in Singapore for 3 consecutive years, prior to initiating the divorce, or be domiciled (permanent place of residence) in Singapore; and
  • Parties must have been married for at least 3 years.

However, in cases where one spouse has suffered exceptional hardship a divorce may be granted within the 3 years.

A British expatriate choosing to divorce through the Singapore courts must also be aware of the potential subsequent financial claims that could be made through the English courts by their spouse for a financial settlement after a foreign divorce, under Part III Matrimonial & Family Proceedings Act 1984. Read more about claiming financial relief in England after a Singapore divorce in our other article.

When Can a British Expatriate Divorce in England/Wales?

If the above-mentioned conditions are not satisfied or if either party wishes to initiate a divorce prior to the 3-year period, British expatriates may look to filing for divorce in their home jurisdiction instead.

British expatriates (and the spouses of British expatriates of a different nationality) are usually able to initiate a divorce in the English courts, as long as they have been married for more than 1 year.

A divorce can proceed in England even if one or both the parties, have lived abroad for many years.

However, whether the parties can divorce in England/Wales also depends if the English courts have jurisdiction to hear your divorce proceedings.

When does the English court have jurisdiction?

The English courts have jurisdiction to deal with the divorce only where:

  1. Both parties are habitually resident in England and Wales; or
  2. Either parties were habitually resident in England and Wales, and one of them still resides there; or
  3. The respondent (the person whom the divorce is filed against) is habitually resident in England and Wales; or
  4. The petitioner (the person who filed the divorce) is habitually resident in England and Wales and has lived there for at least 1 year immediately before the petition is filed; or
  5. The petitioner is domiciled in England and Wales and has been residing in England and Wales for at least 6 months immediately before the petition is filed; or
  6. Both parties are domiciled in England and Wales; or
  7. If none of (1)–(6) above applies and no court of another EU State has jurisdiction, either party is domiciled in England and Wales on the date when the proceedings are begun.

To establish jurisdiction, points (1) to (5) require physical presence in England/Wales of one or both parties.

Points (6) and (7) do not require the physical presence in England/Wales of either of the parties. The practical implication is that the divorce can be conducted entirely remotely by English lawyers who are experienced working with expats.

What is domicile and how to determine the place of domicile in English law?

Everyone has a domicile at all times and it is only possible to have one domicile at any one time.

In the context of English divorce jurisdiction, it is essential to understand 2 forms of domicile:

  • Domicile of origin; and
  • Domicile of choice.

Domicile of origin

The domicile of origin is the domicile that a person acquires at birth and is the country in which their parent is domiciled at the date of birth.

Where the married parents of a child are both alive and living together, the child’s domicile will be that of the father. A child born to unmarried parents or to a mother following the death of the father will have the domicile of the mother.

Domicile of origin is difficult to relinquish. An existing domicile is presumed to continue until it is proved that a new domicile has been acquired. The burden of proof is on the individual to demonstrate that he has lost his domicile of origin.

Domicile of choice

A domicile of choice can be acquired by the combination and coincidence of residence in a country and an intention to make one’s home in that country permanently or indefinitely.

In simple terms, the individual must be physically present in the country and be able to demonstrate their intention to live there forever.

Physical residence for a short period of time, even a few days, may be sufficient to establish a domicile of choice, as long as the intention to reside in that country is for the indefinite future.

A person may abandon a domicile of choice in a country by ceasing to reside there and by ceasing the intend to reside there indefinitely.

When a domicile of choice is abandoned, a new domicile of choice may be acquired. However if it is not acquired, the domicile of origin revives.

Should British Expatriates File for Divorce in England Based on Joint or Sole Domicile in England?

When English jurisdiction is pleaded based on both parties being domiciled in England (as per point 6), the English court will deal with the division of assets and maintenance.

Where divorce jurisdiction is based on the sole domicile of one spouse (as per point 7), the starting point is that the English court does not have jurisdiction to make maintenance orders. Instead it only has jurisdiction to divide assets.

However, the English court may still make maintenance orders if:

  • The parties voluntarily submit to the jurisdiction in respect of maintenance;
  • The respondent enters an appearance (other than to contest jurisdiction – see below); or
  • Proceedings cannot reasonably be brought or conducted or would be impossible in a third state.

Contesting Jurisdiction If Either Spouse Does Not Agree to Divorcing in England/Wales

There may be grounds to contest the jurisdiction of the English court to hear the divorce if, for example, Party A issues proceedings in England and Party B does not agree that the English courts have jurisdiction (and is keen to protect his or her assets from the powers of the English court).

An individual who wishes to avoid subjecting their financial position to the scrutiny and the wide-ranging discretionary powers of the English court, might consider whether to:

  • Contest jurisdiction completely so that the English court cannot deal with financial matters; or
  • Contest a joint domicile petition to force the other party into proceedings based on sole domicile (therefore limiting any potential financial settlement to division of assets only, as mentioned above).

Consider the following typical scenario:

A British couple move to Singapore. The wife issues a divorce petition in England based on the parties’ joint domicile of origin.

The husband might argue that the move to Singapore was a permanent move and therefore that:

  • They both relinquished their domiciles of origin and acquired domicile of choice in Singapore. Hence, the English courts do not have jurisdiction; or
  • He has relinquished his domicile of origin and acquired domicile of choice in Singapore. Therefore the wife’s petition can only proceed based on her sole domicile which means that she cannot ask the English court to make maintenance orders.

Therefore the core question at the heart of every contested jurisdiction case will always be whether either (or both) the parties ever effectively relinquished their domicile of origin and established a domicile of choice in Singapore.

Before embarking on jurisdiction litigation, it is important to carefully understand the relevant law and to make an early assessment of whether the available evidence supports the proposed argument.

Lawyer advice should be sought at the earliest opportunity to understand the relevant law, divorce procedures and likely outcomes so that an informed decision can be made with regard to the choice of jurisdiction.

Before getting a divorce
  1. Process for Getting Divorced in Singapore (With Diagram)
  2. What are the Legal Grounds for Getting a Divorce?
  3. 3 Finance Questions To Ask Before a Divorce
  4. Practical Preparations for a Divorce
  5. How to Divorce Within 3 Years of Marriage in Singapore
  6. Getting a Divorce Due to “Irreconcilable Differences” in Singapore
  7. Online Divorce in Singapore: How It Works and Should You Get One?
  8. How Can I Divorce Overseas?
Divorce Fees
  1. Comprehensive Guide to Divorce Fees in Singapore
Getting a Divorce Lawyer
  1. The Complete Guide to Choosing a Good Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
  2. Don’t Just Go for the Cheapest Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
  3. Find Experienced Divorce Lawyers in Singapore
  4. Child Custody Lawyers in Singapore
  5. First Meeting with Your Divorce Lawyer: What to Bring
Proving Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage
  1. How to Prove Adultery for Divorce Purposes in Singapore
  2. Getting a Divorce: How to Prove Desertion
  3. How to Prove Unreasonable Behaviour
  4. How to Prove Separation for a Singapore Divorce
Application for Divorce Part I: Dissolution of Marriage
  1. Procedure for Dissolution of Marriage
  2. Simplified Uncontested Divorce vs Contested Divorce in Singapore
  3. Mandatory Parenting Programme Guide for Divorcing Parents
  4. Divorce Mediation in Singapore
  5. Divorce Application: What to Do If Your Spouse Cannot be Found
Application for Divorce Part 2: Ancillary Matters (Maintenance, Assets, Custody)
  1. Procedure for Ancillary Matters
  2. Maintenance of Spouse in a Singapore Divorce
  3. Filling in a Matrimonial Property Plan for a Singapore Divorce
  4. Dividing Matrimonial Assets in a Singapore Divorce
  5. What Happens to Your HDB Flat after Divorce?
  6. What Happens to Gifts Between Spouses During a Divorce?
  7. What Happens to Property and Assets Located Overseas Upon a Divorce in Singapore?
  8. Child Custody, Care and Control & Access: Singapore Guide
  9. Getting Divorced: Child Maintenance in Singapore
  10. Singapore Divorcee's Guide to Relocating Your Child Overseas
Post-Divorce
  1. How to Appeal Your Divorce Case in Singapore
  2. Divorce Certs in Singapore: How to Get a Copy and Other FAQs
  3. Transfer of Matrimonial Home to Ex-Spouse After Divorce
  4. Can Divorcees Buy or Rent HDB Flats, and How?
  5. What to Do If Your Ex-Spouse Does Not Provide Maintenance
  6. Variation of Maintenance Orders in Singapore
  7. What to Do If Your Ex-Spouse Denies You Access to Your Child
  8. Division of CPF Assets (Monies, House, Investments) After a Divorce
Expatriate Divorce
  1. Immigration Issues for Divorcing Expatriates
  2. Can Foreigners Divorce in Singapore?
  3. Expat or Foreigner Divorce in Singapore: 10 Legal Issues to Consider
  4. Hague Convention: Overseas Child Abduction in Singapore Divorce
  5. Case Study: Cross-Border Child Custody and the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction
  6. Should British Expats Divorce in Singapore or England?
  7. Divorce for British Expats: How the English Courts Deal with Financial Matters
Muslim or Syariah Divorce
  1. Muslim Divorce in Singapore
  2. Talak in a Muslim Divorce in Singapore (and Its Effects)
  3. Guide to Divorcing by Khuluk for Muslim Wives in Singapore
  4. Applying for Nafkah Idaah and Mutaah in a Muslim Divorce in Singapore
Other divorce matters
  1. Guide to Personal Protection Orders in Singapore
  2. Case Study - Love conquers All: The Divorce That Didn’t Happen
Annulment
  1. Annulling a Singapore Marriage: Requirements and Process
  2. What Happens to Your HDB Flat After an Annulment?
Separation
  1. Separation in Singapore
  2. Judicial or Legal Separation in Singapore: When and How to File
Prenuptial and Post-Nuptial Agreements
  1. Prenuptial Agreements in Singapore
  2. Should You Make a Post-Nuptial Agreement in Singapore?