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David Hodson on International Family Law: Twice Married - Double Trouble

Date:3 FEB 2012

International Family Law Practice by David Hodson

David Hodson

It is a little-known fact that one can go through more than one wedding ceremony, naturally of course with the same person otherwise it would be bigamy! The parties openly admit they are already married together. Some couples repeat their vows on much later anniversaries or after reconciliations. It is not the marriage. A person can be married only once. Second ceremonies are only ceremonies.

But with international families there is an increasing trend for a variety of reasons to have more than one ceremony, often in different countries. Sometimes it is in the home country after the so-called Wedding in Paradise, invariably on a beach in a hot climate. Sometimes it is a ceremony in a church or other religious venue important to the couple followed by a civil registry ceremony. Sometimes it is in the country of one spouse followed by a ceremony in the country of the other spouse. Where it is clear that there was one ceremony only which created the marriage then there is often no problem. Where there is any uncertainty about which was the actual wedding in law, this can create real problems, for the couple, their family and lawyers dealing with their family affairs. Specifically it can create real problems at the time of any relationship breakdown or death of either spouse.

In Hudson v Leigh [2009] 2 FLR 1129, the couple went through a wedding ceremony in South Africa. They and the priest knew it was a sham (although the guests did not!). The intention was a proper wedding subsequently in England which did not then occur. The High Court felt the ceremony was not merely void. It was no marriage at all.

In Al-Saedy v Musawi [2011] 2 FLR 287, the High Court found on expert evidence that a ceremony of marriage in Damascus was not valid and that the subsequent form of marriage agreement in London did not amount to a presumption of marriage.

In R v M [2011] EWHC 2132, a case involving complicated marriage arrangements in Pakistan, the High Court reaffirmed that there is no need for any registration in England of a foreign marriage for it to be recognised here. There is no two-stage process.

The issue has been again considered in a decision in this past week of Mostyn J in Galloway v Goldstein [2012] EWHC 60. The parties married in Connecticut and a month later had a second ceremony in the UK in the presence of many family and friends. When the marriage broke down, they divorced in the US - although the divorce papers made no reference to the second English ceremony. The husband sought a s55(1)(c) FLA 1986 declaration that the marriage had ceased at the time of the US divorce. He was anxious about confusion and claims on his death regarding the second ceremony. The Treasury Solicitor argued that the English marriage was not void at its inception and the husband should have applied for a decree of nullity of the second ceremony. The husband said this confused the validity of the marriage with the validity of the ceremony.

Mostyn J was satisfied to make the declaration that the marriage had ceased at the time of the US divorce because the English ceremony was of no legal effect and therefore not a marriage. He made the declaration under both s55(1) as well as under the courts inherent powers that the ceremony conducted in England was of no legal effect.

There will continue in international family law work to be many instances of international families who have "marriage type" ceremonies, either in different forms in one jurisdiction or in separate jurisdictions. Great care is needed in ascertaining what was the actual valid date of the marriage and the status of the various ceremonies both locally and for recognition abroad.

David Hodson is a Partner at The International Family Law Group LLP. He acts in complex family law cases, often with an international element.  

He is an English specialist accredited solicitor, mediator, family arbitrator, Deputy District Judge at the Principal Registry of the Family Division, High Court, London and also an Australian qualified solicitor, barrister and mediator. He is a Fellow of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and chair of the Family Law Review Group of the Centre for Social Justice.

David is the author of a new forthcoming major reference work, The International Family Law Practice as well as A Practical Guide to International Family Law (Jordan Publishing, 2008). He can be contacted on dh@davidhodson.com.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.

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