What happens to maintenance payments if one person moves abroad following a divorce? There are many reasons why, following a separation and divorce, one party may choose to move out of the UK.

Before making the move, it is important to think about how this could affect maintenance payments which have been put in place during the divorce process. These are periodical payments, also known as child or spousal maintenance.

Spousal or child maintenance?

Maintenance payments are almost always paid to ensure the receiving party can meet their day-to-day needs and the needs of any children they are caring for.

It is therefore vital to know, when considering a move abroad following a divorce, whether these maintenance payments can still be received and the laws which exist to ensure payments continue, even after moving.

It is important to know whether the maintenance being received is maintenance for a child (or children), known as child maintenance or whether it is for the person who is receiving the maintenance, known as spousal maintenance. This could make a difference to the effect moving abroad will have on those payments.

The destination of the move

It is important to establish early on, before a move abroad, what local laws in the destination country say about payment of maintenance.

Local laws will likely govern the interaction with the legal system of England and Wales and stipulate any restrictions or actions which need to be taken when moving, to ensure that payments can continue.

We recommended that legal advice is obtained in the destination country, in good time before moving, to understand the legal requirements. Your lawyer from England/Wales should be able to liaise with the lawyer from your destination country so that the measures to be put in place when you move will be ready to implement, and to avoid any delay.

What happens to my child maintenance payments if I move abroad?

In England and Wales child maintenance is almost always something which is agreed between two parents or governed by the procedures of the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). The CMS will not be able to act to enforce payment of child maintenance when a parent and child move abroad together outside of England/Wales.

However, if a court order is in place which stipulates payment of child maintenance, then England and Wales have a number of reciprocal enforcement arrangements which can be relied upon – these are often referred to as Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Orders (REMO).

When moving abroad, you should seek advice from your lawyer and your lawyer should liaise with your legal representative in the destination country, to establish which REMO arrangement applies and:

  1. What steps can be taken to protect you from any risk of non-payment, for example by registering your English/Welsh court order with local authorities in the destination country; and
  • To advise you on available options if subsequent enforcement is required.

What happens to my spousal maintenance payments if I move abroad?

Unlike with child maintenance, there is no government body which administers spousal maintenance between divorcing or divorced spouses.

Payment will be reliant on the financial order obtained when your divorce is finalised.

The same principles apply otherwise as for child maintenance payments, a REMO will need to be utilised to enforce any English/Welsh court order abroad. To facilitate this, enquiries should be made in advance of the move abroad, or even before preparation of a court order, if possible, to sure the provisions of the English/Welsh order can operate through local laws in the destination country.

Again, consider registration of the order in the jurisdiction of the destination country, through lawyers there, to provide added protection if the order ever needs to be enforced.

2007 Hague Maintenance Convention

The 2007 Hague Maintenance Convention (HMC) is a major legal framework which many countries use for reciprocal enforcement of maintenance. The UK is a member of the HMC.

The HMC is only valid in countries which have ratified it and introduced it to their own domestic law, this should be borne in mind if the HMC is to be relied on. With that said, there are many countries around the world which have implemented the HMC. Additionally, local laws of the destination country should not be disregarded simply because the HMC may apply.

Steps should still be taken, in advance of moving, to establish the legal framework for enforcement in the destination country, as well as any protective measures which can be put in place, such as registration of the English/Welsh order in the jurisdiction of the destination country.

Other considerations when it comes to maintenance payments and moving abroad

When moving abroad, it is important to consider all potential legal implications, especially when children are involved.

You may find further useful information in our article on child relocation, which can be found here: https://watsonmorrisfamilylaw.co.uk/child-relocation/

How Watson Morris can help

The international aspects of maintenance payments, when moving abroad, are very complex and the area is extremely difficult to navigate without legal knowledge.

At Watson Morris our lawyers have experience in dealing with maintenance when a party moves abroad. We can help you to understand which law applies and the steps you can take to protect your payments when you move.

Contact our friendly team for more information.

Written by Greg Bowyer

September 29, 2023

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