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Heston Blumenthal’s split from Stephanie Gouveia: The Legality and Consequences of Destination Weddings

Heston Blumenthal has recently made headlines. The name itself sparks instant intrigue for self-confessed foodies like me.

Another savoury ice cream pairing perhaps?

Not yet.

Rather, the focus is on his recent split with Stephanie Gouveia who had married in the Maldives in 2018 and, his announcement, 3 days after announcing the split, that he is engaged to wed Melanie Ceysson.

Stephanie and Heston’s split has sparked debate over whether it constituted a marriage in a legally binding sense. One of Stephanie’s friends has been quoted to say ‘despite all the reports at the time, they were never married’.

In order for a marriage abroad to be recognised as legal in England and Wales, both of the following conditions need to be met:

The correct process in the country where the marriage took place must be followed, so that it is recognised as a legal marriage there.

It is always advised to contact the local authorities or high commission of the country you wish to get married in to find out about local marriage laws, including what documents you will need.

The marriage would be allowed under English law.

In order for a marriage to be allowed under English law, you must be

  • 18 or over
  • Not already married or in a civil partnership
  • Not closely related

Before booking a wedding overseas, it’s therefore hugely important to check that it will qualify as a legal marriage as there are significant potential implications if it is not.

If the wedding has taken place abroad and the marriage meets the conditions above, such that it is legally recognised in England and Wales, it is possible to start divorce proceedings in England and Wales if the marriage breaks down.

Importantly, being able to initiate divorce proceedings is also dependent on one of the following conditions being satisfied:

  1. Both parties to the marriage are habitually resident in England and Wales;
  2. Both parties to the marriage were last habitually resident in England and Wales, and one of them continues to reside there;
  3. The respondent to the divorce is habitually resident in England and Wales;
  4. If a joint divorce application is being made, either of the parties to the marriage is habitually resident in England and Wales;
  5. The applicant to the divorce is habitually resident in England and Wales and has resided there for at least one year immediately before the application was made;
  6. The applicant to the divorce is domiciled and habitually resident in England and Wales and has resided there for 6 months immediately before the application was made;
  7. Both parties to the marriage are domiciled in England and Wales.
  8. Either of the parties to the marriage is domiciled in England and Wales

The original marriage certificate should be kept safe as this will need to be submitted with the divorce application. If the marriage certificate is not in English, a certified translation would also need to be obtained and submitted alongside the original certification and divorce application.

If your marriage is not recognised as legal in England and Wales, then it follows that no lawful marriage took place and there cannot be a divorce in England. This inevitably affects the rights of the parties to the marriage as, in the eyes of the law, your relationship would be akin to that of cohabiting parties.

Cohabiting couples do not share the same legal rights and financial claims as married couples.

When a married couple divorce, the law in England and Wales offers significant legal protection if the parties are unable to agree on financial arrangements post-divorce. In fact, London is sometimes hailed as the ‘divorce capital of the world’ for the reason that the family court judges in England and Wales have much more discretion than in many other jurisdictions, and the courts have wide-ranging powers to make financial orders.

Even though a cohabiting couple may have been together for a longer period of time than a couple that was married or even have children and property together, the law in England and Wales treats them very differently to their married counterparts when the relationship breaks down.

The only financial claims that cohabiting couples have are in respect of their children under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 and potentially under the law of property via the civil courts. If there is a dispute of ownership and division of the equity in property after the relationship ends, then an application may need to be made to the civil court under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act (ToLATA) 1996. The significance of this is that the civil court will approach matters very differently to the family court in a financial application on divorce. For example, there are certain principles of ‘fairness’ and ‘needs’ which would not come into play when applying the law of property. Rather, there is a presumption that the property is held in the way it is recorded at the Land Registry unless the party who is seeking a share of the property can prove otherwise.

Whether Heston and Stephanie’s marriage is recognised so that the couple go through divorce proceedings, and whether Stephanie would have a claim to Heston’s multi-million pound fortune, remains to be seen.

Rayden Solicitors are experts in expat and international divorce. If you would like further information of any of the issues raised in this blog, please do not hesitate to contact one of our experts.

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