J v J (non-recognition of overseas divorce) – Family Law Week case summary

June 2, 2021

Application by wife for non-recognition of Chinese divorce. Application dismissed.

The wife (W) is Polish, the Husband (H) Chinese.  They married in 2017.  There were no children.  Although H disputed it, the court found that their primary base during the marriage was the UK, and was satisfied that H was a man of considerable wealth running into many millions of pounds.  The couple had spent time in China for business purposes, and W was reasonably familiar with it.  W had played a significant role as chief scientific officer in H’s business which had operations around the world.  The parties separated in 2019.  W was dismissed from her role and successfully brought a tribunal claim in this jurisdiction (although she had not received the awarded damages). She also instructed employment lawyers in China in 2019/20.

W issued a petition for divorce in May 2019 in this jurisdiction by which time H was no longer living in the UK.  H evaded service and in August 2020 the court eventually deemed service and authorised W to apply for trial as an undefended case.  H accepted that he had been aware of the petition since early 2020.  W issued Form A in December 2019; H again evaded service.  There had been several court hearings in relation to the financial remedy proceedings and H filed a Form E that was “unacceptably bereft of detail”.  Unfortunately no further steps were taken by the court on W’s undefended divorce application.

H filed for divorce in the Chinese court on 16 October 2019.  W was made aware of those proceedings on 20.April 2020.  Although W attempted to appoint a McKenzie friend to represent her in those proceedings, that was not accepted in the Chinese court.  In the event the Chinese court permitted the divorce on 14 December 2020 and the judgment was publicised on 27 December 2020, allowing 3 months for appeal.  W did not appeal.  Peel J acknowledged that had W’s suit proceeded expeditiously she would likely have obtained a decree in this jurisdiction before H’s Chinese decree.

Read the full summary on Family Law Week.