A foreign element: can family courts in the UK enforce a financial award made in a foreign court?

It’s not generally appreciated that the family courts in the UK (as long as residency or domicile qualification is satisfied) have the power to enforce a financial award in the UK where the award was made in a foreign court.

In a recent case, an American court had ordered a husband to pay $2 million and a further $4,000 per month until payment.

The Order was registered by the wife in the High Court in November 2012. The husband did not pay. The court exercised its power to the full extent sentencing the husband to six weeks imprisonment suspended for three months, restraining the husband from leaving the jurisdiction and requiring his passport to be surrendered.

The court also made an order against a property that the husband owned in London, so as to enable the wife to effect a sale of that property and to recover the money that was owed to her.

In the above case, the parties were British citizens. But in another case of A v A, the parties had married and divorced in Lebanon where the wife had been born.

However, the wife had a London flat and the parties had spent time during the marriage in England. This enabled her to seek a Financial Order in the English Courts in circumstances where the marriage had lasted four and a half years and the parties had one young child where the wife had £7 million in assets and the husband had £34 million.

The husband was ordered to pay £3 million to the wife and substantial child maintenance of £50,000 per annum.

It was brought home with some force in the case of Sharbalty v Shagroon that for an English Court to have jurisdiction, there not only had to be a recognisable divorce (no matter in which country it was granted), but there had to also be a recognisable marriage.

In this case, the court accepted that the Talaq divorce that had occurred in Saudi Arabia was valid, but the marriage which had taken place in London had only been an Islamic ceremony and had not then been confirmed in a civil register office wedding.

There was consequently no jurisdiction upon which an English Court could hear the wife’s financial application.

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