Nationality vs domicile
An individual’s nationality is his/her status as a citizen of a certain country, also referred to as citizenship. Citizenship confers certain rights such as the right to vote and and also carries with it certain obligations such as National Service where relevant. Although most people have just the nationality of their birth, it is possible to have more than one, for example by marriage or by relocating to another country and becoming a citizen of that country.
For most legal purposes, nationality is not as significant as domicile.
A person’s domicile determines the jurisdiction of the courts in various matters such as marriage and family law, wills and probate issues, taxes, etc. Domicile is where an individual intends to live permanently. Domicile can be in a country different from that of citizenship, for example, a German national can be domiciled in the UK and a British citizen can be domiciled in Australia.
There can be various domiciles within what constitutes a single nation for the purpose of citizenship. Within the UK, a person can be domiciled in different jurisdictions for legal purposes, such as England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Domicile of origin
This is the domicile a person has at birth. Legitimate children take the domicile of their father, illegitimate children the one of their mother. Abandoned children take the domicile of the place where they were found.
Domicile of choice
Domicile of choice is when an individual decides to move to another country. A person’s domicile can change if they decide to go back to their country of origin or move to another country. When a person moves with the intention of staying there permanently, they will acquire that domicile, even if in the future they decide to move to another country, however, if they moved with the intention of staying only temporarily, they will retain their previous domicile.
It can be difficult to establish that one’s domicile of origin has been abandoned in favour of a new domicile of choice. Indication of a new domicile may be:
- marrying a citizen or resident of the new country of residence;
- becoming a citizen of the new country;
- moving their family to their new country;
- setting up and running a business in the new country;
- buying property in the new country and selling any property in the country of origin;
- transferring assets and investments to the new country.
Domicile of dependence
A child under 18 years old takes the domicile of their father (or mother if an illegitimate child) so if their parents’ domicile changes, the minor’s domicile also changes.
The Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973
deals with the domicile of minors.
Determining a person’s domicile
An individual’s domicile is not decided by statute law but by a combination of case law and applicable international law and statutes.
Domicile can affect:
- Taxation. This is probably the area where domicile has the biggest impact, so it’s not surprising to see most of the case law regarding domicile has involved the Inland Revenue.
- Marriage and divorce. The validity of a marriage or a divorce can be affected by the parties’ domicile.
- Wills, probate and estate distribution when someone dies without making a will.
- Child legitimacy.