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International Divorce – The Facts and What to Consider

Updated 20 May 2016

Divorce is never easy for anyone involved; however, things can become even more complicated when there is an international element. International divorce is a particularly complex field, as certain factors such as financial outcomes differ enormously from country to country. 

Before we get into the details of international divorce, there are certain questions that you will need to ask yourself. The first one: is divorce actually the best option? 

It is true that some relationships break down beyond repair, and divorce is the only reasonable solution. However, the decision must not be taken lightly and there are occasions where a period of separation or counselling can be useful in finding a resolution.

Another key consideration before deciding on a divorce is to think about your financial position. If you are seriously considering divorce, it’s important to gather all documents which display your assets and also your liabilities. These include bank statements, payslips, loan information and so on.  

Having a clear understanding of your financial situation will help make things clearer and simpler when it eventually comes to splitting assets between you and your partner.

While it may seem obvious, it must be stressed that every country has its own individual stance on divorce. It is worth taking note if:

  • Your marriage took place abroad
  • Either one or both of you were born in a country other than England
  • You have lived for some or all of your married life in a country other than England
  • You have property abroad

One situation may produce a very different result depending on where the divorce takes place. In international divorce law, the fact that a marriage took place in a specific country does not mean that the divorce has to take place in that country.

It is really important to note that international divorce and family law issues are very different from English family law cases, so it is essential that you seek specialist legal advice.

What should I do first?

Speed is of the essence. You need to ensure the courts in the country of divorce are able to deal with the case. 

There is a ‘first in time’ system in the EU, which essentially means that it is vital to get your petition for divorce in before your spouse if you wish to choose which country your divorce takes place in, as the country where the petition is first served will be the one that is valid.

Where is the best place for an international divorce?

Many people assume that the appropriate place for a divorce to happen is the country where your marriage took place, where you live, or where you’re living at the time of the marriage breakdown.

However, each individual case is different, and it is not as simple as where you live, or where you’re from. There are many international families who find that more than one country can deal with the issue of divorce.

What are the costs?

The time and legal costs associated with getting a divorce differ greatly from country to country. Approaches to financial arrangements between couples in divorce can vary due to different cultures or values. Procedures also vary from country to country, especially in relation to the disclosure of financial matters.

To put it simply, a couple with the same financial resources (house, car, income and pensions) could end up with very different financial arrangements if their divorce is dealt with in England than if it were to take place in Spain, or a US state.

Once again, the best advice would be to seek specialist legal advice at the earliest possible stage.

What about the children?

With many divorces, there is more than just the two partners involved. Children and childcare is another important consideration to factor into an international divorce.

It is only natural for parental instincts to kick in if there is a separation – you may, for example, want to take your child back with you to your country of birth. However, it is critical that you contact a solicitor and seek advice before doing this. If you remove a child from the country, even if you think you have the right to, you could be breaking the law and committing the crime of abducting a child.

International divorce can be a complicated process, and it is important that you seek the advice of a specialist international divorce lawyer if you are thinking of divorcing and have international considerations, or if you are affected by any of the issues mentioned. 

Remember that taking specialist advice early on is vital – leaving it too late could mean that your spouse decides where your divorce takes place, which could have a detrimental effect on the results of your divorce.

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