Difference between Habitual Residence and Domicile in Divorce

Posted on: 6 mins read
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Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

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When it comes to divorce cases, there are several things which can affect the process, based on your particular situation – including jurisdiction, habitual residence and domicile. Where you’ve lived and where you live now, and how long for, can affect the jurisdiction – meaning the area which has the power to make legal decisions with your divorce. The jurisdiction you’re under can change a range of things about your divorce process and how it works.

The UK is split into three jurisdictions. They are:

  • England and Wales
  • Scotland
  • Northern Ireland

It’s important to know which applies to you, so that you’re aware of how everything works, what your rights are and how they may differ. As Divorce Solicitors, we completely understand how confusing and difficult this area of the law may seem, especially if you don’t have lots of prior legal knowledge.

If you’re feeling a little lost in terms of the difference between habitual residence and domicile, and how it affects your divorce case, you can get in touch with our Divorce team early on in the process. We can help make this part of the law transparent and simple, so that you can understand what’s going on and which of these best applies to your situation.

This way, you’ll be more prepared going forward, as you’ll have a more in-depth understanding of what’s happening in terms of jurisdiction, residence and domicile. Divorce proceedings are difficult enough already, but when you have to figure out the difficult and complex law around it can make things even more stressful. We’re here to take the weight off your shoulders as much as possible by making divorce law easy to understand and accessible.

If you’re not sure whether you are domiciled or if you have habitual residence or which jurisdiction you should get divorced in, contact our Divorce Solicitors for initial advice.

signing a document with wedding rings on the table

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To find out more about how our family law solicitors can help you, get in touch with our team.

Jurisdiction in Divorce Explained

In order to get a divorce in England or Wales, you need to satisfy certain criteria. One of them is jurisdiction. The jurisdiction is the authority given to a Court to deal with a certain type of case or one in a certain geographical area.

The Court needs to confirm that it has the legal power to deal with your application for divorce, depending on your jurisdiction. Our Divorce Solicitors deal with divorces in England and Wales and can advise you on the best jurisdiction for your divorce.

There are a few categories that are listed when considering if you meet the jurisdiction requirements. They are:

  • The person applying to the Court, known as the Petitioner, and the person receiving the application, known as the Respondent, are habitually resident in England or Wales
  • The Petitioner and Respondent were last habitually resident in England or Wales and one of them still resides there
  • The Respondent is habitually resident in England or Wales
  • The Petitioner is habitually resident in England or Wales and has resided there for at least a year immediately before making the divorce petition
  • The Petitioner is domiciled and habitually resident in England or Wales and has resided there for at least six months immediately before making the divorce petition
  • The Petitioner and Respondent are both domiciled in England and Wales (only for marriage, not civil partnerships).

You also need to know the difference between habitual residence and domicile in order to decide which one of the above conditions applies to you and whether you can get divorce in the jurisdiction of England and Wales or if you should apply to another jurisdiction.

This can be quite tricky with people that travel a lot or have international aspects to their divorce. It is crucial to establish the right jurisdiction as it can significantly impact the divorce case.

a couple going through a divorce

Habitual Residence Explained

Habitual Residence is often confused with Permanent Residence. Habitual Residence does not need any documents from the Home Office to prove it. But, if questioned you need to have proof to confirm your Habitual Residence.

You are a habitual resident of a country if your day to day life happens there and you intend to stay there long term. You can think of it as a place that you are connected with the most and where your day to day activates happen. That means you work there, your children go to school there, you own a property and are settled there.

In most divorce cases this is quite straightforward. But there are some situations which create a doubt and uncertainty. Examples of this are when people work from a few different countries and travel for work a lot or if they own a few properties.

This is when you need to give a detailed history to your Divorce Solicitor so we can decide whether the Court will accept that you are habitually resident if your partner is defending this position.

We can listen to your story and take on board your information to further understand your case as well as we can. If you get in touch with our Divorce Solicitors early on in the process, we will help you make sense of the information you have, how you can use it and what it means in terms of the divorce case. As explained, we can look at your history and explain to you if you’re habitually resident or domiciled, as this can have an impact on your case.

Domicile Explained

Domicile means your main permanent place where your home is. You may live there or intend to return there in the future.

When people are born, they automatically acquire their domicile. This is based on where their father lived if he was married to their mother or where the mother lived if she was unmarried or the father died before they were born.

It does seem quite obvious, but your domicile can be moved if you moved to a different country if you set up your life and home there.

This can be quite straightforward if you were born and lived in England or Wales all your life as you will be both habitually resident and domicile here, but in many divorce cases it’s not that obvious.

If you’re not sure about which jurisdiction you should get a divorce in and whether you are habitually resident and domiciles in England and Wales, we can help you. Remember, choosing the right jurisdiction to divorce in can offer you better protection.

That’s why we’ll work hard with you to help make sense of the information you provide us with, so that we can find the right jurisdiction that applies to you, making sure you get the right protection you need based on your habitual residence or domicile status.

This can play a big role in your divorce case, as it affects your rights and protections, especially if you’ve lived in multiple countries throughout your life, and if you were born in another country to where you live right now. This could potentially affect jurisdiction, too.

So, contact our expert Divorce Lawyers for an initial discussion and we’ll be able to help you get the protection you need for your divorce case, based on your jurisdiction.

Get in Touch

If you’re getting a divorce, it can be hard to know where to turn. You might be confused about what happens next, especially if you don’t have a lot of prior knowledge about divorce law. It can be a daunting process.

But it doesn’t have to be stressful. If you get in touch with our expert Divorce Solicitors, we’re able to take you through the ins and outs of the process and how it all works, including the confusing area of jurisdiction.

In addition, we’ll help you work out what your rights are in terms of this protection and jurisdiction. This way, you’ll be able to understand how you can proceed with the divorce.

Often, getting divorce and be a fraught and difficult thing, due to the emotions involved. If you’re struggling, as well as providing legal advice, we can point you in the right direction in terms of finding some mental health support. This could be in the form of therapy, a support group, or just resources to help you cope with the difficulties and stresses around getting divorced, and the intense and hard emotions this can bring up.

So, get in touch with our Divorce Lawyers today, and we’ll help you proceed with your divorce.


Divorce.co.uk. (n.d.). International Divorce Jurisdiction. Retrieved from https://www.divorce.co.uk/international/jurisdiction

UK Government. (1973). Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Retrieved from https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1973/45

The Law Society. (n.d.). Divorce after Brexit. Retrieved from https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/topics/brexit/divorce-after-brexit

Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

Areas of Expertise:
Family Law

Lorraine is a Partner at Simpson Millar, specialising in Family Law for over 20 years.

She handles middle to high net value cases, including pension claims and complex trust, and also advises on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements.

Lorraine has unrivalled knowledge of public sector pensions, in particular police pensions, having advised police officers on pension claims for two decades.

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