By Wendi Schuller
Author of “The Global Guide To Divorce”
International divorces are becoming more common for many reasons.
People choose work assignments at their company’s offices around the globe. There is movement of people between the member states of the European Union. Students study abroad, marry someone from another culture and then return home with their new spouses.
With a divorce rate of 40 to 50 percent in Western countries, it is inevitable that people will be divorcing someone from abroad or as expats in a foreign locale.
The key and possibly most important aspect of international divorce is to be the first one to file for it. What country handles the divorce is paramount to its outcome.
Do not discuss wanting a divorce with your spouse as this gives them the opportunity to file for it first, in a place that may be less advantageous to you. Divorce laws, division of assets and spousal support vary vastly between countries and U.S. states.
Speed is essential when it looks like you two may be going your separate ways, so meet with an international attorney right away. International attorneys may work with a local one, but the first item on the agenda is to decide in which country to file for divorce. The first country who receives the filing is usually the one who handles the couple’s divorce, even if the spouse files at a later time in another place. Most countries have federal guidelines, but a few, such as the U.S., Canada and Mexico have regions/states which have their own rules.
One has options where to file for divorce. Connections to the county of one’s birth, upbringing or permanent home is where they are domiciled.
If a couple from abroad works and intends to live in their new country, this is habitual residence. Filing for divorce in the country of their habitual residence requires a specified amount of time to have lived there, usually at least for one year.
If an Italian and a Canadian are living in the U.S. while working long term for a company, they would have several choices where to file for divorce. They could file in the state where they currently reside. Or either may file in the country of their birth.
Tax consequences and immigration issues are other reasons to seek advice from an international attorney before filing for divorce. For example, when a Mexican national marries an American and is living in the U.S., getting divorced could affect their status to remain in the States.
When obtaining a divorce in a foreign country, an international attorney will make sure it is valid in your country. One aspect that governments check, is that that the other spouse was informed of the divorce filing and had adequate time to respond to it.
There are Web sites for online calculations, which give an idea of what alimony and child support could be in various circumstances. These are for different states and countries. They are basic guidelines of what to expect, but do not replace expert legal advice.
I made up a mythical situation with kids and salaries to compare rates in various states and countries. The differences were hundreds of dollars a month, which emphasises the importance of where one files for divorce. Courts in some areas have the reputation of being extra generous to those who gave up careers to be stay-at-home parents and your attorney will know about this.
Some countries have a “Clean Break,” which is when assets are split and both parties walk away with no more financial ties to each other, including paying alimony.
It does not apply to child support since both have parental responsibilities to their children. Some countries have the higher earning spouse pay spousal maintenance for a specified amount of time. A “Clean Break” may be a factor in where to divorce.
Look into the time it takes to get a divorce in applicable countries. You may not want to be entangled in proceedings for months longer than it would be would somewhere else. This bumps up the legal fees and stress factor when the divorce process is prolonged.
Disclosure of finances is handled differently in various countries.
In some European ones, both parties tell the judge what their financial assets are without a formal disclosure. If the judge has any questions, a witness may be called or an investigation done. The judge splits the assets which were mentioned and hidden ones may stay out of the financial picture.
In the States, it is mandatory for a full disclosure with a monetary penalty for ones not listed, such as those offshore.
There are attorneys that specialize in expats getting a divorce. Divorce is difficult enough when done in one’s hometown and is especially nerve wracking when one is alone in another country. One may not have a support system in place when they decide or their spouse announces that the marriage is over.
Get expert legal advice as an expatriate, especially before departing with the children to go back home. There are clubs for expats abroad and members can give insider advice on where to get help.
My friend and her husband were expats in Asia for 10 years. She was born and grew up in Ohio and he in Kansas. Her parents moved to Florida, where they were wed. They lived in Arizona before going to Thailand.
Luckily they rented out their house. The marriage crumbled and my friend filed for divorce in Arizona when they were back in the States between assignments. Getting a divorce was easier since they had a primary residence on which they paid taxes and insurance and this made it definite where they were domiciled (legal attachment).
With any type of divorce, international or not, it is important to take care of yourself, get sleep, adequate nutrition and recreation so you will be at your optimal self to face what lies ahead.
When unsure what step to take next, get legal advice.
Wendi Schuller is a nurse, hypnotherapist and is certified in Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP). Her most recent book is “The Global Guide to Divorce” and she has over 100 published articles. Her other book is “The Woman’s Holistic Guide to Divorce.” Learn more at her website at globalguidetodivorce.com.