UK (University of Lincoln) Academic’s Research Leads to Landmark Ruling in Marriage Abandonment Case

Research from Professor Sundari Anitha, Professor of Gender, Violence and Work at University of Lincoln, UK, has helped secure vital legal support for victims of transnational marriage abandonment.

Transnational marriage abandonment is believed to affect hundreds of women and occurs when a person deliberately abandons their foreign national spouse abroad and prevents them from coming back, often separating them from their children.

Professor Anitha’s pioneering study into the issue, which was undertaken in 2016, showed for the first time how transnational marriage abandonment typically follows a pattern of domestic abuse and controlling behaviour, and is, in itself, a form of domestic violence.

The recommendations from the study have had a lasting impact. Firstly in 2017, when Professor Anitha, working Southall Black Sisters – a leading domestic violence organization – and lawyers, persuaded the family justice system in England & Wales to include transnational marriage abandonment in their definition of domestic abuse.

This then led to transnational marriage abandonment being recognised as a form of domestic violence for the first time anywhere in the western world; meaning victims could also access the legal support afforded to those affected by domestic violence.

Unfortunately this change could not benefit most victims as they were stranded outside the UK. Under the ‘Domestic Violence Rule’, a woman can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, and therefore live permanently in the UK if she could prove that her marriage had broken down because of domestic violence, but only those in the UK could make an application under this rule.

However, a recent High Court judgement is set to change this and offer those abandoned abroad the chance to return to the UK. The High Court case was brought against the Home Office by a 31-year-old woman, referred to as AM.

AM was a Pakistani national married to a British citizen who suffered severe financial, physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of her husband for years while in the UK on a spouse visa. One day, her husband effectively forced her to travel to Pakistan along with their then two-year-old daughter Once there he took her travel documents away and returned to the UK with their daughter.

As she was unable to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain while in Pakistan, it took eight months for AM to see her daughter again.

The High Court found that there was no good reason to treat victims of transnational marriage abandonment differently from victims of domestic abuse in the UK; meaning that the Domestic Violence Rule will need to be amended to enable victims of transnational marriage abandonment to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain from abroad. It will also mean provisions will have to be put in place for abandoned wives to get to a situation of safety and economic security before they apply for indefinite leave.

Speaking about the impact her research has had, Professor Anitha said: “My research highlighted the violence and injustice suffered by abandoned wives due to the actions of men who have British citizenship or residence rights in the UK, for too long these women had been out of sight and out of our minds.

“This research brought home the ways in which state policies make it easy for these men to treat their foreign national wives as disposable women and to separate them from their British children with impunity.”

Nath Gpikpi, the solicitor who represented AM added: “At last, some justice has been served, and the UK government will have no choice but to facilitate their return to the country. If you were in the UK on a spouse visa and have been stranded abroad against your will, do seek legal advice, you may now be able to make an application to come back to the UK.”