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More British spouses contest ‘international divorce race’ for better settlements

EU regulation 'unlikely to halt European forum shopping'

Increasing numbers of British spouses are 'racing' each other to secure more favourable divorce settlements.

Family lawyers at law firm Pannone have reported a significant rise over the last two years in cases involving couples trying to begin proceedings in countries where they believe they might get a better deal.

Pannone claim businessmen are now more likely than ever to issue proceedings abroad to avoid what they regard as wife-friendly settlements in British courts.

Senior Associate Vicki McLynn said the growth in Britons' international lifestyle had led to spouses competing to take advantage of the likely disparity of outcomes in different countries.

"Husbands and wives are effectively racing to be the first to begin divorces in countries they feel could deliver judgements which are more favourable to their respective circumstances. That is because the differences between certain countries are significant.

"The increase has been most noticeable in European countries as for most a 'first past the post' system operates in which a divorce will be handled in the country where the papers are first issued.

"Spouses have to demonstrate some justification for divorcing in a given country. However, because there is now such a large number of people living and working abroad, a growing proportion of individuals qualify."

Ms McLynn's comments are based on analysis of more than 700 cases handled by Pannone's Family department over the last two years.

She said that London's reputation as "the divorce capital of the world" had contributed to a culture where spouses either try to issue proceedings first or argue for a change in venue once a case has begun.

While British courts could award ex-wives maintenance for life, many other countries are considered less favourable to non-working and less wealthy spouses, for example limiting post-marital support to only three years.

The European Union recently moved to halt the process of so-called "forum shopping" by introducing regulations to dictate where proceedings should be issued if the couple cannot agree.

EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, said the move was prompted by statistics showing that 13% of the one million divorces across Europe in 2007 involved spouses from different countries.

She declared that the initiative aimed to end "the financial and emotional disaster" caused by "forum shopping". However, only 10 of the EU's 27 countries have adopted the regulations, which come into force in June next year.

Britain is among those nations not to have signed up because, among other reasons, of differences between its legal culture and those of other EU states.
Ms McLynn said that meant the pressure spouses felt to move quickly in order to get a more favourable settlement would continue.

"While couples have the choice of where to have their divorce it is hard to see how the issue can be effectively addressed.

"Britain's reputation means that even when divorces are completed overseas, a husband or wife who believes that they got an especially raw deal could still try to improve their settlements through the courts here."