The high mobility of American citizens traveling abroad for work or personal reasons is the cause of many international marriages and, consequently, divorces. Dissolution of a marriage with a foreign citizen often causes unique issues in understanding the foreign legal system and its process.
Divorces among Americans and foreign spouses are not uncommon these days. Between 2019 and 2020, 37.7% of international marriages broke down outside the United States, according to research by OnlineDivorce.com. More than half of them returned to their homeland, while the rest continued to live abroad.
“Getting divorce overseas may be a necessity when both spouses plan to continue living in the foreign country after their separation,” the CEO and founder of OnlineDivorce.com says. “But it could also be a conscious choice due to more favorable terms and outcome for one of the parties.” On the other hand, foreign nations and states might have more complex requirements than in the U.S. to get divorced, such as specific conditions or various religious ceremonies.
Grounds for divorce
According to the rules, when filing documents for divorce, a petitioner must indicate why the marriage can no longer exist. Usually, this is a list of 5-10 reasons that can include adultery, cruelty, abandonment, felony, etc. In the U.S., there is also a so-called no-fault divorce when the married couple has fundamental differences in character, life values, and the like, making it impossible to stay together as a couple.
No-fault divorces are prevalent in modern American society. As John Gottman, a psychologist and researcher of divorce and marital stability, noted, “Most marital arguments cannot be resolved… because the disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values.”
In other parts of the world, things are not so smooth. In some countries, it is not sufficient for spouses to simply declare their dissimilarity and obtain a divorce decree on this basis as they could do in the U.S.
For example, in Italy, only after three years of separation you can apply for divorce. There must be a good reason, and the concept of insoluble differences is not considered such. Collecting all the necessary documents can take years, and the divorce procedure itself lasts at least five years. For the above reasons, divorce in this country is often poetically compared to Dante’s “circles of hell.”
One of the most critical aspects for all couples who want to get long-awaited freedom is how long they have to spend in courtrooms and visit lawyers’ offices before everything is over. While some countries don’t have mandatory separation periods, others may require spouses to live separately before filing their lawsuit.
In the U.K., spouses must live separately for at least two years (in Scotland one year) before filing for divorce. It also takes a year in Germany, but this condition is lifted if the court finds out about the abuse of a spouse or child. As for Greece, if the marriage is less than six months, couples will have to wait until a six-month date — only after that can they begin to draw up necessary documents.
For all parents, children are the most valuable part of life. Therefore, each of the spouses seeks to obtain custody of the children at all costs. And although in America, the state of affairs concerning guardianship changed for the better a long time ago, in many other countries, guardianship issues have stayed precisely how they were in the previous century.
The question of whom the child will stay with is challenging since various circumstances must be considered — the child’s age, citizenship, special needs, etc. In France, if the child was born in the country’s territory, but the parents are not its citizens, they have no right to take the child out of the state.
In Italy, in 90% of cases of divorce, children remain with their mother. The words of Phyllis Schlafly, a lawyer and writer, come to mind when describing this situation, “When it comes to determining child custody, however, sexism is the rule.”
In contrast, in inter-ethnic marriages, foreign women are more likely to lose the courts, and the child is left with an Italian father.
One of the essential aspects of divorce is the division of property. In the United States, this process is regulated by the laws of each state. At the same time, the court considers only the spouses’ jointly acquired (marital) property and divides it either in half or equitably. However, even in the U.S., it is a difficult task. “When it’s time to divide property and possessions, it’s almost impossible to do it equally,” Marlene Stum, a family social science professor at the University of Minnesota, points out.
In the U.K., laws do not provide any guidance to the courts on how they should resolve a dispute over property division. English court takes into account all the property of the spouses, regardless of where it is located. In each case, the judge determines what belongs to the parties, identifies their property around the world, and assesses each spouse’s contribution to the increase of its value.
In Saudi Arabia, the division of property can take several months. A husband must return the dowry to his ex-wife and all the jewelry and clothes. Under the marriage contract, the wife also receives an apartment and a decent amount of money for life. And yes, a prenuptial agreement is a good idea when marrying a foreigner because it would protect both sides after divorce.
Obtaining a divorce abroad can result in a very long and complicated process since the legislation in different countries can differ from what we are used to in the United States. For this reason, you should not neglect the services of a lawyer in the country where you want to divorce because the consequences of inadequate preparation will be difficult to dispute after the end of the process.