The breakdown of relationships between couples with international connections can give rise to disputes about where they should be divorced. In a case on point, the High Court found that England, not Nigeria, was the most convenient place for a couple’s marriage to be brought to an end.
The case concerned a middle-aged couple with links to both countries whose lengthy marriage yielded three children. Although they had been through a religious form of divorce, they remained legally married under English law. The husband petitioned for divorce in Nigeria six days before the wife did the same in England. He applied to halt the English proceedings on the basis that the divorce should take place in Nigeria. The wife, however, powerfully disagreed.
Dismissing the husband’s application, the Court had no doubt that it had jurisdiction to hear the wife’s petition. It was clear that, when she issued it, both she and the husband had for some years been habitually resident in England. She was also domiciled in this country, having spent most of her life here. Both their lives centred on England, which they considered their home.
The Court also had no difficulty in finding that the case could more conveniently be heard by an English court than a Nigerian one. Amongst other things, the wife could not easily travel to Nigeria, the former matrimonial home was in England and it was undisputed that the English courts had exclusive jurisdiction in respect of the children, all of whom were born in this country. Overall, it was clear that the case was substantially more connected to England than to Nigeria.
The Court declined to treat the fact that the husband had issued his petition first in time as a material consideration. The wife had delayed issuing her petition at his behest and he had taken the opportunity to surreptitiously issue proceedings in Nigeria. Given his behaviour, the Court also attached little weight to the fact that the Nigerian proceedings were well advanced.
Prior to the couple’s religious divorce, the wife had, without legal advice, signed an agreement which, if enforced, would deprive her of her financial entitlements and restrain her freedom to remarry for an indefinite period. It also provided that, in the event of her remarriage and departure from the matrimonial home, custody of the children would automatically vest in the husband.
The Court noted, however, that the agreement’s only real relevance was as evidence of the husband’s controlling behaviour. The terms that it sought to impose on the wife were disreputable and no English court would enforce them. The ruling opened the way for the wife to pursue her petition, and to seek appropriate financial provision from the husband, in England.