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Wife ‘Got There First’ in Big Money Divorce Jurisdiction Skirmish

European law operates on a ‘first past the post’ system when it comes to jurisdiction issues and this has in some instances given rise to a race to launch proceedings. In one case that illustrated the point, the High Court ruled in a big money divorce case that the wife had got there first.

The wife had issued a divorce petition in London but took no steps to serve it on the husband until almost three months had passed. Effective service was delayed by an administrative error and was not achieved until four months and one day after the petition was issued.

The husband had petitioned for divorce in Germany and those proceedings had been served on the wife four days after he was himself served. In arguing that the Court had no jurisdiction to hear the wife’s case, the husband submitted that she had issued her petition secretly and had delayed unreasonably in serving him with it.

In ruling in the wife’s favour, and accepting jurisdiction to consider her case, the Court noted that there is no formal time limit in respect of service of divorce petitions. It could, however, be inferred that service should be performed reasonably promptly. The wife had, on the evidence, met that requirement and the Court had become ‘seised’ (come into possession) of her petition on the day that she issued it.