Divorce: International Style

By nicoleray, 21 October, 2014



Maintaining a healthy marriage can be challenging at the best of times, but when you add living abroad into mix things become exponentially more difficult. Moving out of the country often means cutting ties with family, long-time friends, and the familiarity of home – essentially losing a vital support system. While social media and other internet communications have made it easier to stay in touch with distant loved-ones, when it comes to the day-to-day challenges of adjusting to life abroad, the couple is entirely on their own. Some couples rise to the challenges and their relationships grow stronger; others fall apart.

Divorce While Living Abroad

The same way that it is extra challenging for marriages, living abroad can also make divorce more difficult.

First is the issue that, no matter what their home country or where they got married, couples are generally subject to the marriage and divorce laws of the countries in which they reside.

For example, divorce was banned in Malta until 2011, although couples could obtain a decree of legal separation. The Maltese government also refused to recognize divorces obtained abroad. Although divorce is now allowed, couples have to meet certain criteria to qualify:

·  They need to have been living apart continuously for at least four out of five years BEFORE filing for divorce, or for at least four years AFTER obtaining a legal separation;

·  There must be no hope of reconciliation; and,

·  If one or both spouses are responsible for maintenance payments, such as child or spousal support, the responsible party or parties must be successfully providing that maintenance.

As you can see, a couple living abroad in Malta might have difficulty getting a divorce due to the criteria they have to meet, which means they might have to file in their home country or in another country.

Issues can be further complicated if both spouses are citizens of different countries that have different divorce laws.

Another major issue is what happens to the marital household after the divorce, especially if there are children involved?

If a couple decides to return the entire family to their country of origin, then it might be a simple matter of waiting to file for divorce and determining custody when they get back home. The same goes if both parties decide to stay in their country of residence. But what happens if one spouse decides to leave the country, and wants custody of the children?

International Child Custody

The big problem with international child custody cases is that not only has the divorce broken up the family, but now the family is also split over geographic lines. Not only does it make it more difficult for parents to maintain relationships with their children, it’s also difficult on grandparents and extended family.

Ideal Legal Group, a Los Angeles firm that specializes in international child custody cases, emphasizes that it is important for couples to seek counseling and guidance about child custody issues, before they become a problem. Not only in term of things link visitation rights for parents, and even grandparents, but also to reduce the risk of child abduction.

Child Abduction

Child abduction occurs when one spouse takes the child, or children, and refuses to relinquish custody. In the case of international child custody disputes, the spouses are citizens of different countries and the abducting spouse takes the child, or children, to his home country.

Abduction can also occur if a couple lives in a country where one spouse is a citizen, the spouse that is not a citizen briefly leaves the country without the child, or children, and the spouse that is a citizen refuses to allow the non-citizen spouse access when he returns.

In abduction cases, bereft parents can seek relief under the Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act, but these cases often lead to lengthy battles in foreign courts, and can take years to resolve. In the meantime the bereft parent, and her family, are denied access to the child, or children, often with detrimental effects to the familial bond. Additionally there is also the risk of the bereft parent losing all custody, especially if the child, or children, was abducted at a very young age, and the abducting parent’s home and country are all the child knows and he expresses a desire to remain with his abductor.