Marrying overseas

We start the New Year with England controversially opening its borders to Romanian immigrants, amidst the release of net migration figures from when the Labour Government was last in office, amounting to a population twice the size of Birmingham.

One primary school in Southampton, the entry point for many foreign nationals, now has provision for educating children who speak 42 different languages including two African dialects. As the population of England increasingly diversifies, so does religion, social structure and culture. With the first gay marriage likely to take place in March 2014 and the Supreme Court recently ruling that a Scientology ceremony was a valid wedding ceremony, recognition of what is, and is not a marriage is now posing a problem.

Asaad v Kurter [2013] EWHC 3852 (Fam) recently came before Mr Justice Moylan. The wife argued that the marriage ceremony overseas was a marriage capable of being annulled or dissolved, the consequence of which was that the wife could then make financial claims to the English Court relating to matrimonial assets and her husband's income. The husband argued that the ceremony that had taken place was no more than a blessing and did not create a marriage.

The parties had participated in a ceremony in 2007 in a Syriac Orthodox Church in Syria. A large number of guests attended. The parties had met in Syria and the husband and wife subsequently both moved to England after marriage. The husband was Syrian, the wife Turkish. The parties separated in 2009 and the husband subsequently obtained a religious divorce from the Syriac Orthodox Church. He then argued to the English Court in response to the wife application that no marriage had taken place. An Archbishop of the Syriac Church attended Court to give evidence on behalf of the husband that the Syrian marriage had not been registered with the Syrian authorities as was the requirement for a Syrian national. The evidence was that the marriage was not valid under Syrian law and that it was a non-marriage in England.

The Judge concluded that the parties had intended to marry but that the marriage was not valid as a result of a failure to comply with required formalities. This in turn meant that in English law it was a marriage, but that it was a void marriage, capable of being annulled and that therefore the wife could make financial claims to the English Court within nullity proceedings.

This case emphasizes the difficulties faced by those who have married overseas who have then firmly placed themselves in the hands of legislation of England and Wales by permanently settling here. What may seem to be a perfectly straightforward position overseas may well be interpreted differently by the Courts in this country.

Cases involving an international element are often complex for this reason and it is important to obtain specialist legal advice. For further information, please contact our Family Law team on 0113 201 4900 or email family.law@emsleys.co.uk.

Gabbie  Clasper

Written by

Gabbie Clasper

Head of Family Law

Gabbie has over 20 years’ experience in family law. She has expert knowledge in complex issues including financial aspects following divorce; pre and post-nuptial agreements; cases with an international element; and civil partnerships. Gabbie is regularly instructed by clients based across the country and abroad. She...

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