How to move back to the UK from Europe after divorce with no money or support network?
December 27, 2010 6:07 PM   Subscribe

Say you're a British citizen. And you're married to a citizen of a European country and living in that country with them and your kids, who are also citizens of that European country. And say you no longer want to be married and want to move back to the UK. With the kids. Leaving aside the inevitable custody battle, what the hell do you do next?

I need to leave. For all sorts of reasons. But the task of actually moving back to the UK with nothing, setting up a life there with no job and no money or support network is stopping me from doing it. And my spouse knows that, and appears to see that as a reason to not stop doing the things that make me want to leave.

I have a small family there and they would help me. But friends are spread out all over the UK and I'd be on my own, mostly. I want to be. I need to do this on my own. I can do this on my own.

So, I'll need a place to live, benefits at first, then a job... how do you do that when you live in a whole 'nother country? Am I even entitled to benefits? How do I get them when I don't live in the UK yet?

Trying to work this out by consulting websites is making my head spin. I'm usually great at this kind of thing, but there's just so much other stuff going on in my head that I can't seem to figure out even what my first move should be. Does anyone have any tips?

(Throwaway e-mail address:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total)
You really need a UK immigration lawyer, not AskMetaFilter.

Maybe people could use the comments here to refer you to one who could work with you remotely?
posted by Jacqueline at 6:25 PM on December 27, 2010

Leaving aside the inevitable custody battle

I don't think this is possible. I mean, you're not going to get solid advice that's applicable to your situation with that sort of elephant left sitting in the room.

Is your spouse abusive? Is this some sort of scumbag your children would be thrilled to get away from? Or is this just a person who picks their nose and eats it? Big, big difference in what your best course of action is, depending on the answer to that.

There isn't a responsible way to flee like this that doesn't involve sorting out the custody issue.

ALL your questions, here and unasked, are easily sorted with the honest, objective answer to "What is in my children's best interests?" It sounds likely that in this case it is your finding a job, any job, in the country your children are in, and sticking it out with a second home nearby until they are old enough to not need to live with a parent. What you are proposing -- flee to another country with the children, leaving a parent behind -- is not reasonable, and the "need" sounds pretty silly here. On the other hand, if your partner is a brute, get an attorney, get on the next plane, crash on Grandma's sofa. But, again. "What is in my children's best interests?" It makes the right thing to do quite clear for virtually all conundrums.
posted by kmennie at 6:26 PM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

You can apply for benefits (Job Seeker's Allowance or income support, council tax support, housing benefit, child benefit, etc.) online at, although I think you need to be resident in the UK to file the applications (and you may need to attend an interview for some of them, especially JSA). The process of starting to get those benefits you are entitled to should take a matter of weeks rather than months. Your entitlement is affected by savings (e.g. you are not entitled to JSA if you have more than £16k in savings, and you are not entitled to the full amount unless you have less than £6k). Your entitlement to the full JSA (and perhaps other benefits) may also be affected by the fact that you presumably haven't been paying UK National Insurance contributions during the last two years.

Of course as a UK citizen you are entitled to reside in the UK. You don't specify which European country, and I am not a lawyer but, if the European country your children are citizens of is in the EU, then my understanding is that they are legally entitled to join you without any immigration paperwork (disregarding the very significant issue of legal custody).

So if custody weren't an issue then you could probably do this without a lawyer. You need a family lawyer though.
posted by caek at 6:42 PM on December 27, 2010

You need an attorney, probably two--one in each country. The immigration of your children is not such a big deal, it is the custody battle and all of the rules that go with it that no one but an experienced attorney should guide you through. If you just pick up your kids and leave, it could be considered parental abduction and then you will have a bigger mess on your hands.
posted by MsKim at 8:36 PM on December 27, 2010

I'm just going to assume you have a valid reason for leaving, or that the appropriate people to talk to you about that, out of that, or give you advice, are not me because I don't know the full story. And that you sound like you don't have much resources (if you can just 'contact a lawyer' well, sure, but 9 out of 10 times I've heard that recommended to people, they didn't have the resources).

I suggest you talk to women's refuge services in the UK to *locate* the applicable resources in the UK. E.g.

If you ring around enough, they might be able to put you in contact with free legal advice info, so you can figure out what to do, and keep asking everyperson you talk to if they have advice for other people or resources to talk to:
The reason I'm suggesting refuge organisations, is they'll know *who you can contact* to sort out accommodation, benefits, legal support and jobs etc within the UK. It's what they deal with all the time. Try and get hold of something like a 'benefits rights advocate' as they'd know more about what you'd be eligible for than the local dole office, and far, far more willing to tell you.

Look at using Skype or Google Talk to contact those people.

Finally, and I'd be on my own, mostly. I want to be. I need to do this on my own. I can do this on my own.
If you really, truly, absolutely need to do this, then you need to let go of the pride that tells you you want to do this on your own (shame, humiliation, co-dependence, fear that you're not strong enough so making it harder on yourself to prove that you can / sabotage yourself). If it is truly a need, for you and your children, then you put down your embarassment, and contact every person, friend, family member, organisation or resource you can to help you do this - because that *is* the mature, responsible, adult thing to do. You need to get as much help as you can to get yourself on your feet as quickly as possible, not the other way around.

Also, start looking into those same resources in the country you are in. See if you can get some counselling of some sort, so that you have a support network where you are. If you feel like you are in a position of strength and supported, then maybe you genuinely will be able to make the changes in your relationship necessary for it to become healthy.
posted by Elysum at 10:11 PM on December 27, 2010 [6 favorites]

Consider speaking with a UK Consular official. They can often assist individuals from their country in a different country access assistance and legal aid.You might have to be very specific about the reasons that you need to leave -- privacy won't survive a custody fight anyway.
posted by driley at 12:15 AM on December 28, 2010

This might be of interest: EU Cross border divorces
posted by quarsan at 12:25 AM on December 28, 2010

Your children are almost certainly also British citizens, or entitled to British citizenship (assuming that you were born in the UK). So, immigration should not be a problem, but in any case, you can check with the UK Border Agency.

You are likely to be entitled to benefits if you move back to the UK, whilst you look for work. is the right place to look for information about this. But, if you have no money at all then you are stuck somewhat as beaurocracy moves slowly. You will need to get back to the UK by yourself - if that isn't possible, contact friends and family and ask for help. Failing that the British embassy in the country you are living in may be able to either provide assistance, or direct you to an organisation that can.

Unemployment is currently high, a good location to move to would be a place where you know people and there are likely to be jobs (e.g. South East England).

The bitter custody battle that will ensue will be expensive. It's likely that the European country that you're in has signed the Hague Convention on Child Abduction which probably means that this custody battle will not take place in the UK but instead in the country where you are currently living. If you or your child are a victim of domestic violence, the Hague convention should allow you to pursue custody in the UK.

Think carefully about whether moving back to the UK is your best move. You really might have to leave the children behind. And see them very rarely. Even if you think that wouldn't be fair or right. You might be better of leaving your marriage but staying in the other European country.
posted by plonkee at 3:05 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Investigate options to leave your marriage but stay in the country you are in. You may well have a benefit entitlement there and you should be able to work and you may find it easier to stay with your children.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:42 PM on December 28, 2010

If you're finding to be a bit confusing or convoluted, check out Citizens Advice Bureaux AdviceGuide. The Advice Guide site is what telephone and quick-drop-in advisers are trained to use with queries from the general public, so the information is fairly comprehensive (and in plain English).

You may well be better off staying in your home country and accessing whatever resources you have around you at the moment. Talk to a local solicitor about your rights under local law, and ask around for a UK solicitor. You need to decide which country is going to give you what you need. Money and support are important, but your rights might vary from your adopted country to the UK.

South-eastern England isn't the only place with jobs - we've still a few going up here in Leeds. It isn't all grim up north (though I would avoid the south west, excluding Bristol)
posted by Grrlscout at 4:14 PM on December 28, 2010

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