Question: I’ve been separated from my wife for a few years now. I voiced my request for a divorce about a year and a half ago.
She is a German national living in Germany. Our marriage was a German one in Germany and was soon thereafter recognized by the U.S. Army.
How do I go about getting a divorce from her? I don’t have to go through that one-year German divorce nonsense, do I?
To ensure your divorce is not subject to attack (for example, due to lack of notice because your wife is in Germany), you should contact an attorney who practices in Germany to start the divorce process in Germany. This is so for several reasons.
First, whether a state will recognize a foreign marriage is a matter of state law; the United States is not a member to a treaty that automatically recognizes foreign marriages. While the US Army may recognize your Germany marriage, the State of Alaska, where you reside, may not.
Second, you may have trouble acquiring jurisdiction (“court power”) over your wife if she is in Germany and/or some of your marital property (e.g., bank accounts) are located in Germany. You would need to serve her with court papers and, if needed and ordered, attach assets and secure third party cooperation to maintain the status quo of your marital estate during your divorce. Think what could happen if your wife suddenly starts spending away a bank account in Germany, and you cannot communicate with the German bankers to get them to stop her?
Third, as a matter of comity (“respect”), all States and the United States will recognize foreign divorces, provided both parties to the divorce received adequate notice (which is more likely if you pursue the case against your wife on her turf) and one of the parties (your wife) was a domiciliary of the foreign country. For more information on comity, see Hilton v Guyot, 159 US 113 (1895).
Keep in mind that I am a Michigan attorney and cannot give you detailed advice about the laws in Germany or Alaska. You should not rely on this answer as establishing an attorney-client relationship, and you should contact an attorney in your area and in Germany immediately for additional information and legal representation. Thank you for submitting a question to Cordell & Cordell, P.C.
Jennifer M. Paine is an Associate Attorney in the Detroit, Michigan office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims. Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.