When married British couples separate whilst living overseas, it is quite common for competing divorce petitions to be issued both in England and abroad. A High Court ruling provided a useful illustration of the judicial approach to jurisdictional issues that often arise in such cases.
A couple, both British citizens, moved to Dubai about two and a half years before the breakdown of their long marriage. The wife petitioned for divorce in this country and the husband shortly afterwards launched divorce proceedings in Dubai. The wife was, in England, granted a conditional order of divorce.
The following month, the husband was granted a divorce order by a Dubai court. In challenging the jurisdiction of the English courts to entertain the wife's petition, he contended that matters had already been concluded in Dubai and that further proceedings in England would serve no purpose.
Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that both husband and wife were still resident in Dubai. It was, however, satisfied that the wife had throughout remained domiciled in England, within the meaning of the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973. She had retained property and bank accounts in this country and had expressed an intention to return here to live.
Given that all or most of the couple's property remained in England, the Dubai court was not in a position to determine the financial outcome of the divorce, a process on which the English courts had already embarked. The wife had to date been unable to participate in the proceedings in Dubai, where at least one hearing had been conducted in Arabic, a language neither of them spoke. The English proceedings had been lodged first in time and could be conducted remotely.
The Court acknowledged that the husband may not have known that proceedings in England were on foot when he issued competing proceedings in Dubai. On balance, however, it concluded that England was the most convenient and appropriate forum in which the divorce proceedings, together with the wife's application for financial relief, should be conducted. The Court granted the wife a final order ending the marriage.