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Lucy Loizou: The race to court

Date:26 APR 2012

Lucy Loizou My blog is not in anticipation of the Olympics which are shortly to be with us but about being the "first to issue" in European cases where there is a jurisdiction race.

If your client is considering a divorce or separation they have a close connection with England and another European country, they may have the choice of where to divorce or formally separate. It is therefore fundamentally important that you advise your client quickly about the steps that they need to take to formalize the end of their relationship.

Why? Because they may find themselves stuck in divorce proceedings in a country where the financial outcome may not be as favourable for them as it would have been if proceedings had been issued in the other country. All European states have to comply with the Brussels ll regulation which means that the divorce will go ahead in the country where the divorce was issued first.  

As a Greek speaking family lawyer, I deal with a lot of international cases where there are strong connections with Greece. I often have to make quick and important decisions as to which country is likely produce the better financial outcome for my client on divorce. In such a ‘race' to court, timing is so important as jurisdiction can be lost in a matter of minutes.

So let us look at Greece and England. Often, if I am asked to advise a husband who wants to divorce and he has a choice of issuing proceedings in England or Greece, my first piece of advice is to seek urgent legal advice from a Greek solicitor to determine precisely what he would be awarded if the case were heard in Greece.

The Greek courts will first exclude all pre-marital assets, inheritance and gifts from the "pot" available for distribution. They will revert to the person to who owned them prior to the relationship or to whom they were gifted. So if the husband brought a house and money into the relationship and the wife did not, is likely that the husband will  obtain a better financial outcome if he divorced in Greece.

If, on the other hand, I am acting for the wife in this example, she would be in the weaker financial position (probably having been, and perhaps still, the primary carer of the children), she would be more likely to do better to issue divorce proceedings in England where she is likely to secure financial outcome. In particular, a wife is likely to fare better on the income front in the English courts who can order life-long maintenance. If she divorced in Greece, spousal maintenance tends to be lower and for a shorter duration. So the husband usually fares better in Greece in respect of the maintenance awards made.

Other differences to consider is that divorce cases can take longer to conclude when contested in Greece than in England. Often cases can take years to come to trial.  In terms of financial disclosure, the Courts powers ordering financial disclosure are not as extensive as they are in England. These factors are very important to consider.

Many of my clients come to me to gather information about what factors are involved in a divorce/separation. As a family lawyer, particularly where there is a potential jurisdiction race, it is important that you are able to advice your client quickly on the steps that need to be taken.

Lucy thanks Ann Thomas also of the International Family Law Group for her assistance with this article.

Lucy Loizou is a Solicitor and Associate with the The International Family Law Group. She undertakes complex financial and children disputes and has worked on a number of cases involving high net worth issues often involving an international element. She has also acted for a number of high profile individuals and assisted in resolving their disputes swiftly and discretely. She has written family law articles for various legal journals and writes monthly for a leading Greek newspaper column. She also presents a fortnightly radio phone in on London Greek Radio on family law issues.