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Couple’s foreign marriage should be annulled, family court rules

A woman born in the Philippines cannot divorce her husband because their marriage was bigamous, a family court judge has ruled.

The hearing, conducted remotely via Skype, concerned a couple who married in the Philippines in 2005 before later moving to the UK. The wife filed for divorce in July 2018. The husband countered, later the same year, with a claim that their marriage had been bigamous because the wife had still been legally married to another man at the time of their wedding. It should therefore be annulled he argued. In addition, the husband noted that their marriage certificate featured some errors.

The wife denied bigamy, insisting that their marriage had been properly solemnised and registered. As a British citizen she was fully entitled to a divorce under English law she insisted.

These competing claims came before High Court Judge Mr Justice Williams. In his recently published ruling, he explained that in order to be considered valid in the jurisdiction of England and Wales, a foreign marriage must have complied with the laws in the country in which it took place. At the same time, he continued, it is not generally necessary for the requirements of English marital law to apply if a question arises over the validity of a marriage under the laws of another country.

If the husband had knowingly entered a bigamous marriage that might have justified a refusal to annual the marriage, Judge Williams explained, but there was insufficient evidence to determine this. The husband may have believed her assurances that the earlier marriage was just an informal celebration, or he may have harboured suspicions. But the evidence that was available did establish that the marriage had been unambiguously bigamous, the Judge concluded: the wife had still been legally married to her first husband when the second wedding took place.

Therefore the 2005 marriage was not legal under English law either. The Judge criticised the husband’s stance during the proceedings as “manipulative” and “unattractive” – he had stated that he would not oppose the divorce petition if the wife made no financial claims – but the case had to be decided on the available facts.

Judge Williams noted:

“Neither the wife nor the husband emerge from these proceedings with much credit. Ultimately the marriage they entered into is void because the wife remained lawfully married to [her first husband]. I will therefore grant a decree of nullity.”

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