Home Family & Relationship 2 Partners, 2 Daughters, 2 Countries, 1 Divorce – The Complexities of International Family Law

2 Partners, 2 Daughters, 2 Countries, 1 Divorce – The Complexities of International Family Law

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Divorce can be tricky to navigate, even for the friendliest of ex-partners. 

For actors Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner who recently announced their divorce, the involvement of the media first and foremost has likely made things more difficult and acrimonious than they might otherwise have been.

Although some of their divorce seems relatively straightforward – mainly their prenup which will ensure their finances and assets are split how they initially planned before they married – the international element is adding levels of complication and emotional strain, particularly where their children are concerned.

One of the most contentious areas is which country should process the divorce. Jonas filed first in the US, and Turner has reportedly submitted a divorce filing in England, her home country. To add to this, Turner also submitted a lawsuit in New York, claiming that Jonas had wrongfully detained their two daughters in the US, despite their official residence being in England. 

Divorces that cross borders, whether it be homes, jobs or finances, tend to be very complex and often incredibly stressful for both parties, as well as those around them. Sometimes known as multi-jurisdictional divorces, the involvement of two different court systems and divorce processes is unlikely to be an easy road. 

As a result of this, it may be that more than one country might have jurisdiction to deal with their divorce and the forum for the divorce will need to be decided before matters can progress. 

Factors that may be taken into consideration when deciding this are as follows:

  • Habitual residence – where the couple live regularly or are currently living in,
  • Domicile – country that is the permanent home,
  • Nationality,
  • The country the couple were married in.

In short, there must be a valid connection to the country to which they wish to commence divorce proceedings in, so it is important for advice to be taken in both jurisdictions before making a decision. It may be that one country would be more favourable to one party as to the outcome of financial matters than the other.

In the case of Jonas and Turner, difficulties have arisen as Turner claims that England is the permanent residence of the family and where they intended to settle. However, with Jonas on tour in the US, and the divorce being filed in Miami, in addition to the lawsuit made by Turner in New York, the judge ordered that both partners remain in New York for the duration of proceedings. This is where they will start mediation, too. 

Children can add a layer of complication to international divorces as parental relocation is often a factor – this is certainly the case for Turner and Jonas given their careers and lifestyles. This means that geographical factors will come into play when deciding on child arrangements and it is likely that one parent will see significantly less of the children than the other.  In England and Wales, the court will consider the children’s best interests.

In this jurisdiction, if one parent were to remove the children from England and Wales without gaining permission from the other parent or the Court, they would have committed child abduction. 

International child abduction cases are becoming increasingly common, although it may seem like a realm only the super-wealthy and celebrities are a part of. Many parents travel between different countries due to their individual nationalities or for work reasons but if they are in the process of getting divorced, a host of legalities and practicalities must be considered.

Child abduction can be a misleading and often misused term, but it is a serious claim that should not be taken lightly. 

Sophie Turner reportedly filed a petition in New York citing child abduction clauses of the Hague Convention. She claimed that Jonas had denied giving the girls’ passports to her nor would he let her return to England with the children who were touring with their father and his band whilst Turner was filming in England. This has led to the Court ordering both parents to remain in New York until their divorce is concluded in light of where the children are currently based.

Arrangements for children upon divorce can be complicated enough, even without two potential jurisdictions at play. If matters cannot be agreed between the parents, the ultimate focus of any Court will be that of the children’s best interests, and they will decide where the children should reside, with whom, and how often they see the other parent. There will need to be considerations around habitual residence along with the feasibility of travel for the children between two different countries to spend time with each parent.

Whilst a celebrity divorce such as Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas’ is sadly dramatised by the media, the reality is extremely complex from a legal standpoint – particularly when claims of child abduction come in – as well as being an emotionally stressful situation.

Rachel Fisher is a Partner at Stowe Family Law 

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