Divorce occurs when one or both spouses in a marriage seek the legal dissolution of that marriage relationship. A divorce order will legally terminate the marriage. In many countries, a divorce order is required.

If you are an American civilian living abroad in another country you can get divorced. Divorce decrees issued in foreign countries are generally recognized by the United States. Certain conditions must be met however, including: 

  • Both parties to the divorce are given sufficient notice of the divorce proceedings; and
  • One party is domiciled (living) in the foreign nation at the time of the divorce. Domicile refers to the state or nation in which you presently live without any immediate intention to leave.

Thus, if a divorce proceeding has occurred in such a context, but neither party is domiciled in a foreign country, then there is a chance that the divorce might not be seen as valid in the U.S.

Based on principles of reciprocity, a divorce judgment from a state court in the U.S. will usually be recognized in a foreign country that also has a similar judicial system. 

Questions regarding the validity of an overseas divorce, or the validity of a U.S. divorce in another country may be addressed to a family law attorney in your area.

What if the Spouse Living in the Foreign Country Files for Divorce?

In a situation where one spouse lives in a foreign country while the other lives in the U.S., there may be differences to consider with regard to where the divorce is filed. 

If the foreign spouse files for the divorce, as mentioned, then the proceeding should be valid so long as it meets the requirements listed above. However, the couple may encounter various obstacles and difficulties regarding certain issues. These can include:

  • Child Custody Issues: While a foreign divorce decree may be able to terminate the “married” status of a couple, a foreign court might be reluctant to issue any orders regarding child custody for the parties. The court might not have jurisdiction to make such orders or conclusions; even if it does, there is a chance that U.S. court might not honor such determinations coming from a foreign court; and 
  • Division of Property: Similarly, a foreign court might be hesitant to issue any orders regarding division of property for the couple. Again, jurisdictional issues may arise here, and a U.S. court might not honor the conclusions of a foreign court with regard to property division in the divorce.

Thus, these and other issues may need to be considered when filing for divorce in a situation where one party is in another country.

What if the Spouse Living in the U.S. Files for Divorce?

In situations where it is the spouse living in the U.S. filing for the divorce, certain considerations also need to be made. For instance, the following issues should be considered:

  • Petitions: The spouse living in the U.S. will still need to file the proper petitions (paperwork) for divorce in the relevant local court. They will need to make sure they themselves meet the proper state and local residence requirements.
  • Service of Process: The spouse living abroad must be notified of the divorce proceedings. This means that they will need to have the service of process requirements satisfied, unless the spouse abroad agrees to have the services of process waived. Things can begin to get complicated if the spouse abroad attempts to avoid service. Additional assistance from an attorney would be necessary in such situations.

    • If the spouse living in the U.S. cannot find or get a hold of the spouse abroad, but they know the spouse is not dead, then in some cases the court can consider a good faith effort as enough notice. It will depend on the situation and ultimately it is up to the court to decide, but this will be to ensure that spouses who fled overseas cannot just ignore any notice of divorce and keep the other spouse in family court limbo. 
  • Jurisdiction: The state court will also need to determine if it has jurisdiction to make a divorce order over the spouse located in the foreign country. This depends on various factors, including whether or not child custody and/or property division is involved.

Can I File for Divorce from Active Military Personnel Stationed Abroad?

You can file for divorce if your spouse is abroad serving active military duties. Due to the complexities involved with military law, you should see a family lawyer who can fully explain your options. 

If you are on active military duty abroad and have been served with divorce papers, you may have a few options. You can either respond immediately, or you may be able to have the proceedings delayed for the rest of your active duty (plus 60 days through the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act). This doesn’t mean you can ignore the papers while on active duty. The court still has full discretion to allow or deny you the option to delay. 

Finally, if you’re stationed in a U.S. state or territory other than where you legally reside, you can still get divorced. Again, specific questions should be directed to a family law attorney.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help Divorcing While Abroad?

Laws regarding foreign divorce issues can be complicated. Meeting with an experienced divorce lawyer will help you understand your options and rights under the law. A lawyer can also represent you in court during important hearings and meetings.