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Divorcing An Abusive Spouse

International Divorce case study: when the respondent lives abroad and does not engage in the proceedings in the UK.

Our International Divorce Lawyers and Solicitors in the UK have a lot of experience in dealing with:

  • Obtaining a divorce when your spouse lives in another country
  • Divorces involving a foreign national
  • Divorces when there has been a foreign marriage

Am I eligible to apply for a divorce in England and Wales?

You can apply for a divorce in England and Wales if:

  1. You and your husband/wife are habitually resident in England and Wales or;
  2. You and your husband/wife were last habitually resident here and one of you still resides here; or
  3. Your husband/wife is habitually resident here; or
  4. You are habitually resident in England and Wales and  have resided here for at least year immediately prior to the petition.
  5. You are domiciled and habitually resident in England and Wales and have resided her for at least six months immediately prior to the petition.
  6. You and your husband/wife are both domiciled in England and Wales

What if my husband/wife lives outside of England and Wales?

As we act for international families, we often have cases where the other spouse is abroad but the petition is domiciled in England and Wales. The international divorce process might appear daunting and it can sometimes be complex and length but there are legal procedures in place to enable service of the divorce petition outside of the UK.

Real case study

We were instructed  by a wife who issued divorce proceedings in England and Wales based on the fact of “5 years separation”.  In England and Wales you must give one of the following reasons for your divorce in your divorce petition:

  • Adultery- the respondent has committed adultery and the Petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the respondent.
  • Behavior- the Respondent has behaved in such a way that the Petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the Respondent.
  • Desertion- the Respondent has deserted the Petitioner for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition.
  • Separated for 2 years and consent- the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition and the respondent consents.
  • Separated for 5 years- the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least give years immediately preceding the petition.

The parties had married in Poland in 1989.  By the time they came to divorce had been married for 26 years and had been living apart for five years.  The spouse had also formed a new relationship, was cohabiting and wanted to move on with her life.

Whilst the spouse was habitually resident in England and was eligible to issue divorce proceedings in the UK, her husband was living in another country, Poland and this raised issues such as service of the divorce petition abroad.

As the respondent did not return his acknowledgment of service form back to to the court, we arranged for an international agent to deliver a copy of the divorce petition to his home address in Poland. However this option was not without its own issues and the respondent did not answer the door to the international agent. The agent was told that the respondent was out at work and that a relative would inform the respondent that service had been attempted.  

Following this attempt we sent a letter to the respondent at the address in Poland, by recorded delivery, and it was returned to our office.

Given the above difficulties an application was made to the court to dispense with service of the petition in that all possible options of serving the respondent had been exhausted.  However before the court could grant the application it wanted confirmation as to whether the client had tried the following:

  • Contacted the respondent on his mobile or email address;
  • Carried out searched on social media websites including Facebook to see whether service by Facebook Messenger could be a viable option.

We confirmed to the court that the client did not have a mobile number or email address of the respondent. We also confirmed that search of Linked In and Facebook were undertaken and the respondent appeared to be on the social media platform.

Following an approved application for the petition to be served on Facebook the court confirmed that once completed the petition would deem to have been served 48 hours after service.

The above order  of the court enabled the client to go on to apply for the middle stage of the divorce proceedings, Decree Nisi. The client finally obtained a Decree Absolute in May 2019.

We estimate that without any complications divorce proceedings in England and Wales should take between three to four months without any delays on the court’s part. However, when a respondent lives abroad or evades service or has subsequently moved address, the process can take a lot longer. However what the above case study proves is that at IMD we explore all options to overcome these complex international divorce cases and even though the international divorce process takes longer than planned, we have success in obtaining the required outcome; in this case a divorce when  a spouse lives in another country.

For further information, please contact Iwona Durlak in the family law team on 0330 107 0107 or email This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published

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