A High Court judge has ruled that an English court has jurisdiction over a maintenance dispute, despite the couple’s divorce being granted in Scotland.

The dispute over jurisdictions arose in Villiers v Villiers after the wife filed maintenance proceedings in an English court a few months after her husband had filed for divorce in Scotland.

The couple had lived in Scotland together for 12 years, until they separated in April 2012 and the wife moved to England.  

Although the husband had filed for divorce, he had not included a claim for maintenance in his petition. He said that by applying for divorce, the issue of maintenance was implied, as Scottish courts cannot pronounce a divorce whilst financial issues are outstanding.

The dispute was heard in the High Court, where the two territories were treated as if they were separate states under the EU Maintenance Regulation.

Under the regulation, if multiple proceedings on the same issue are filed in different EU courts, the court where the case was first filed has jurisdiction, and all other courts must stay proceedings.

Mrs Justice Parker rejected the husband’s argument that his divorce petition inherently included a financial claim, and ruled that the English court has jurisdiction over the maintenance dispute as the case was first filed in England.

Penningtons Manches, the national firm representing the wife, said it was the first reported intra-UK case under the maintenance regulation.

Jane Mitchell (pictured), a solicitor at the firm who acted for the wife, said: ‘This decision is very welcome in highlighting an important point which can be overlooked, namely that England and Scotland are treated as separate EU member states for these purposes and that a ‘jurisdictional race’ may therefore take place between them’

Simon McKirgan, a senior director at divorce firm Vardags, told the Gazette that by failing to secure jurisdiction over the financial claim, the husband in this case left himself ‘exposed’ to a high maintenance claim in England.  

He said: ‘In England, wealthy spouses can be ordered to maintain their spouses for life, regularly at high levels, commensurate with the standard of living during the marriage. In Scotland, the law is very different, with maintenance limited to a three year adjustment period in most cases.’

He added: ‘Issues like this show just how vital proper advice can be when involved in cross-jurisdictional disputes, as neighbouring countries can easily have hugely different interpretations of family law.’

Topics