Divorcing wife wins domicile war and can divorce her husband in the UK

28 March 2014

Domicile is a tricky and fascinating concept because it is so fact-specific that no two cases are the same. It is usually relevant to people making Wills or administering Estates because where you are domiciled when you die depends on where you pay tax and some jurisdictions tax harder than others.

In the UK, Inheritance Tax is charged at 40 per cent so if you can show the deceased was non-domiciled, potentially you can save a lot of tax. HMRC tends to fight these cases very hard.

Domicile can also be relevant in so-called ‘jurisdiction races’ between divorcing couples because some countries, for example the UK, have a reputation for being more generous to wives than others. Although these are family law cases, private client lawyers always sit up and take notice.

In fact, the Court of Appeal considered the issue of domicile in a divorce case involving a couple with a very international lifestyle.

In Sekhri v Ray ([2014] EWCA Civ 119) it it was held that the English Court had jurisdiction to deal with a divorce petition, even though the husband argued that it did not.

The Court found:

  1. The husband’s domicile of origin (based on his father’s domicile) was in the UK and this persisted, notwithstanding a move to Singapore which was necessary for his work; and
  2. The wife’s domicile of origin was India but she had acquired a domicile of choice in the UK.  She moved to the UK to work full-time as an anaesthetist and bought a property here.  Again, this domicile was not displaced by the move to Singapore.

This is another example of how ‘fact-specific’ domicile is – people who lead this kind of international lifestyle should take care and never take anything for granted.

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