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United Kingdom (UK) - Marriage and Divorce

In any country you can get married or divorced, whether you were born there or are a citizen of that country. The key element that determines the legal status of your marriage is whether the country you are living in recognises the marriage. In other words, if you married in one country and live in the UK you may not be recognised under UK law as married if the marriage did not comply with UK laws.

If you decide to get married while you are living in the UK as an expat then the marriage is valid. The only rule that governs marriage in the UK is whether you are of minimum age to enter into the union. This age is sixteen, but parents must give consent for anyone under 18 years of age. The United Kingdom also recognises civil and religious unions. If you have a have a qualified religious official at your wedding you are legally considered married. In a civil marriage a state registrar is usually the person conducting the ceremony.

Proof is required to show that your marriage is valid, typically in the form of a marriage certificate. In terms of marriage there are different options, from civil and religious marriage to civil partnerships between same sex couples. In 2013 a bill was entered into parliament that would legalise same sex marriage in England and Wales.

Marriage involving expats must meet certain conditions to ensure that it is a valid marriage and not an immigration scam. Given this situation, you are not legally bound until you have gone to the designated registry office and obtained a notice of marriage. In this situation marriage must be heterosexual and neither party can be in a civil partnership or separate marriage. Polygamous marriages are not allowed; UK law defines this type of marriage as bigamy.


Pre-nuptial agreements in the UK are rarely seen as valid in a court of law. United Kingdom courts can decide whether or not the terms in the agreement must be adhered to. The agreement may be unused or dismissed should children be a part of the marriage and thus the divorce, in which case the court will ensure ample protection for the children with regard to funds and custody.

Marriages involving expats will need to meet international divorce regulations, rather than being standard UK divorces. International divorces are necessary when one person or both persons in the marriage are not considered UK citizens.

To divorce in the UK you must have lived habitually in one of the UK countries; at least one of you must still be living in the UK; and that party must remain in the UK for 12 months prior to the start of the divorce. If the person petitioning for divorce has been living in the UK for 6 months and was domiciled there, the divorce can also go through the UK court system.

If you decide to go through an international divorce then you will need to go through mediation, collaborative law or counselling in most cases to ensure no one is rushing the judgment.

You do not have to undergo divorce in the country you married or where you spent most of your married life. You can return to your home country and file for divorce under your legal system, however the UK may request that the divorce take place where you lived during your marriage. This can happen when children are involved and they are still living in the UK. Additionally, if there is an issue with your having taken your children before the divorce, your spouse may file an abduction case, which would create issues for your situation including the request to bring you and your children to the UK for divorce proceedings and possible civil or criminal cases as well.

A solicitor for both you and your ex-spouse will be necessary in an international divorce, and a court appearance will be required before the divorce is finalised.

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