The breakdown of a marriage is an intensely difficult moment, but a Court of Appeal ruling in a big money divorce case clearly illustrated that timing can be crucial and that it is always wise to seek legal advice sooner, rather than later.
The case concerned a multi-millionaire financier and his wife, both of whom were German nationals but whose family home had been in London. The wife lodged a divorce petition in England, but it was not served upon the husband until about four months later. The day after personal service on him was affected, the husband launched divorce proceedings in Germany.
In dismissing the husband’s application to stay or dismiss the English petition, al Advice. family judge rejected arguments that service had been unreasonably delayed. As the wife’s petition had been lodged first in time, the matter was the responsibility of the English courts by operation of Article 16 of Council Regulation No 2201/2003, which concerns conflict of law issues between EU member states in the family law context.
In dismissing the husband’s appeal against that ruling, the Court noted that the judge had accepted the wife’s explanations for the delay. There was, in any event, no explicit requirement that divorce petitions must be served as soon as possible, or even reasonably promptly. The Court accepted that the absence of such a requirement could be viewed as undesirable. There was, however, no basis on which a time limit on service could be implied into the relevant procedural rules.