Separation & Divorce: How Do English Courts Secure Overseas Assets?


An increase global movement has caused an upsurge in international marriages and divorces. And with these divorces can come a greater degree of complexity, particularly when matrimonial assets are located overseas. If your spouse wants a divorce and there are overseas assets involved, or indeed, if you want a divorce and have overseas assets, read on to find out how the English courts handle these cases.

What are overseas assets?

In a divorce, an overseas asset may be a holiday home, cash, art, or a bank or savings account, it may also be a portfolio investment, an offshore trust, or perhaps a property that is owned by a business. Some of these assets can be vague and difficult to unearth, for example, it can be difficult to establish if money from a complex trust structure is accessible or what its value is.

Disclosing foreign assets in a divorce 

In all financial settlements, full and honest disclosure of all assets is required, wherever they are located. Both parties will need to complete a Form E, a document that sets out all financial details including income, businesses, pensions, debts, what capital you own and the financial needs of any children involved. Included in the form is a ‘Statement of truth’ which each divorcing party needs to sign. Related documents such as mortgage and pension statements, property valuations and life insurance valuations should also be included in your submission to the courts.

If your former spouse doesn’t disclose all overseas assets

If your ex-spouse has not detailed an asset on their form, and you believe they have more assets, let your legal representatives know. Not telling the truth on the form can lead to that spouse being in contempt of court and they could face a financial penalty or a fine.

The courts have the power to freeze assets in some instances. This stops someone from transferring any assets to avoid its inclusion in a financial settlement. If the divorce has not been finalised your solicitor may suggest appointing a forensic account who will look into more detail on your partner’s financial activities.

What the courts can do

The courts will examine whether or not the asset in question is, in fact, a matrimonial asset that should be included in the divorce settlement. If they do identify this, and a valuation has been carried out, they have the power to transfer the asset into the other party’s name. But it’s important to note that not every overseas asset is treated in the same way. A tangible asset like property will be treated differently than an investment, for example.

Although it is not a desirable spot to be in, if your former spouse does not transfer the asset or assets, following a court order, then further action can be taken. This is often a challenging element of a divorce with overseas assets; however, a family lawyer will be able to advise on the type of enforcement proceedings that can be issued. This is based largely on the country where the assets are, and its relationship with the UK.  For instance, in some countries, there are reciprocal agreements already in place regarding financial orders made in the UK. These orders can be enforced more easily and swiftly when this is the case. In locations where UK orders are not upheld, it may be beneficial to modify the order into a local version in order to enforce it.

In conclusion

Finally, many international divorces can become long and protracted when there are foreign assets involved. This can result in greater expense over time. It’s worthwhile ensuring that while you are married you retain all documents linked to assets and make sure they are easily accessible.

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