Some English law caveats for Meghan Markle - Spear's Magazine
show image

Some English law caveats for Meghan Markle

Moving to the UK to marry the prince (or 'commoner') of your dreams loved one may not be as simple as saying 'I do', writes Stuart Smyth

There has been a significant amount of doom and gloom in the papers over the past 12 months regarding Brexit and the anticipated exodus of people this will trigger (or already has triggered) from the UK. However, a news item last week about a US person bucking the trend to come and live in the UK, having fallen in love with the man of her dreams, made a pleasing change.

But is a move to the UK as simple as saying ‘I do’? Sadly not.  Amid the frantic wedding preparations, there are a number of more pertinent matters that the couple may need to think about and which apply to anyone coming to the UK to marry and live with their fiancé who is a British citizen (whether having found their real life prince or not).

First, the maze of the UK’s immigration rules needs to be navigated. While the fiancé of a British citizen can come to the UK, (initially for six months provided they intend to tie the knot within that period and which can then be extended once the nuptials are complete), the lovelorn lady will still have to satisfy certain requirements. The applicant will need to prove that she can support herself financially, or be supported by her partner, without recourse to public funds.  One for her perhaps - her successful career to date is no secret and should not be a 'just impediment' at this stage, I dare to imagine. The couple must also show that they have adequate accommodation in place. One for him perhaps?

The applicant will also need to demonstrate that she has a 'good knowledge of English' (no doubt a walk in the park for an American) but the 'Life in the UK test' might be more challenging – although strictly speaking this is for settlement/citizenship.  Perhaps brushing up on her future family’s history might help secure top marks. At interview, the couple will finally need to prove they are in a genuine relationship – you cannot trust everything you read in the papers!

There are certain basic tax aspects that they will need to consider as well.  Where a person is resident in the UK, but not UK domiciled or deemed UK domiciled, they can choose to be taxed on the advantageous 'remittance basis'.  This means that they will become liable to UK income tax and capital gains tax only on income and capital gains arising in the UK, or arising abroad and remitted to the UK.  The 'remittance basis' protects unremitted foreign income or gains from being taxed by Her Majesty’s/Her grandMother-in-Law’s Revenue & Customs. The question of her domicile will also need to be investigated. I am not aware of any statutory provision regarding the automatic assumption of a domicile in England and Wales by marrying into the Firm, and so if she wishes to retain her non-UK domicile, she will need to be able to show that she has retained a sufficient connection to the jurisdiction in which she is currently domiciled. Otherwise, she could choose a UK domicile by declaring that her love for England (and Wales) is equal to her love for her new spouse (also a Wales) - albeit that her worldwide estate would from then on be subject to UK inheritance tax and she would lose access to the remittance basis of taxation.

And last, but not least, it would be amiss not to raise the issue of entering into a pre-nuptial agreement; a concept with which an American may be more familiar but with which the Brits are catching up.

A move to the UK to be with your soon to be husband or wife can throw up a few tricky questions. My legal training would always tell me to say 'first with your head, and then with your heart' when it comes to planning such a move. However, in reality, emotions more often than not take over and prudent planning can be merely an afterthought. This can lead to tangles later on; tangles which we can assist with disentangling before the big day for any client.

Stuart Smyth is an associate at boutique private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP