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Family Law

Brexit – do separating couples need to file for a divorce before the 31st December 2020?

Monday, December 7, 2020

The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, however, throughout the transition period the EU Regulations governing divorce have continued to apply.

Under current EU regulations, subject to certain criteria being met, married couples can choose which country their divorce takes place. This allows an EU citizen to travel around Europe and choose a Court which they believe will give them a more favourable divorce settlement. Commonly known as “Divorce Tourism”.

What often occurs is a race between a couple to file a petition in a particular country, under a “first past the post” system. The divorce proceedings will then be dealt with by the country where the petition was first issued.

“Divorce Tourism” shall end on 31 December 2020 when the Brexit transition period ends. At this point, EU Regulations will no longer apply to any NEW divorce petitions. An English court will be able to refuse to accept a divorce petition in favour of another EU member state which is more closely connected to the marriage. But, people can have connections in more than one country and hence it is expected many costly arguments will ensue over where a divorce should take place.

To avoid any uncertainty, separating couples with connections to more than one EU country would be well advised to issue proceedings, without delay. And certainly well in advance of the end of the transition period (31 December). It is recommended not to wait until mid or late December, as the family courts are overburdened and short-staffed, so there is no guarantee that a Petition will be issued in time.

If you require any advice in relation to issuing a divorce petition before the end of the transition period or as to how Brexit may affect your financial settlement, please contact the Family and Divorce Team at Samuel Phillips Law, in the strictest of confidence, on 0191 2328451 or email

Correct as at 7 December 2020, but the status of the Brexit negotiations are ever-changing so please contact us for more up to date information.

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