We’ve all heard about, and many have seen ‘My big fat Asian wedding’ on Channel 4, showcasing wonderfully extravagant and lavish celebrations. But what about when these marriages sadly come to an end. There is little reported about the unique complexities that can follow when law systems and culture intricacies collide, which can add a unique layer of stress to an already emotional time.
What are the key challenges that arise in Asian marriages?
The gifting of significant amounts of gold upon marriage – the wedding jewellery
Marriages in Asian culture often involve the exchange of substantial amounts of gold jewellery which can hold a huge amount of value and importance, including emotionally for the parties, with many items often representing family heirlooms. A common predicament arises when divorces loom, and the in – laws may expect the jewellery gifted to be returned to them on divorce. They are often shocked to discover that under divorce law, any jewellery gifted belongs to the person who received the gift (which will often mean the estranged spouse). It will, however, form part of the ‘matrimonial pot’ along with money and property to be divided. There are often disputes surrounding the valuation of such jewellery, and it is important to carefully document all gifts/purchases.
There is no specific legislation governing this practice, which is deeply engrained in Asian culture. However, if a wife intends to reclaim her dowry/gifts under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 she must show that she was given a dowry, what she was given and the fact that it remains within the control of the husband or his family.
The complexities of mixed funding of properties and businesses
Extended family living and pooled financial contributions for properties or businesses are a common practice in Asian culture, and defining what is matrimonial and non-matrimonial property is not always clear-cut. When a couple separate, extended family members may seek a return of their funds or claim ownership of a property to prevent a matrimonial claim. Unfortunately, there are often little to no legal documents setting out the true beneficial ownership or the families intentions. Until these issues have been resolved, the Family Court will often be unable to determine how any assets or money should be divided.
Tackling assets and bank accounts oversees
Transferring assets or funds abroad to minimise any claims during divorce is a concern. It is important to recognise that assets held overseas will fall into the matrimonial pot for division on divorce.
Seeking legal advice at the earliest possible stage is crucial and as there is so more than the law to consider, it is important to work with a law firm that has experience of divorces in the Asian community and is alive to the cultural sensitivities too.
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