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International Divorce

In a globalized world with advanced communication technology, it has become increasingly common for people to get married to nationals of foreign countries. Often times, native couples would also move to other countries in search of better jobs, education or to pursue other life goals. When disagreements or conflicts arise in their family relations, all these things which were typically considered to be simple family matters quickly convert to international ones. International divorce is one such international family conflict.

International divorces can be very complex and difficult to resolve as each case presents unique, multifaceted fact scenarios. On top of this, the divorce rules and the legal systems vary greatly from country to country. To complicate things even more, there are cultural, religious and linguistic differences. Some of the complex divorce matters that we see in our international cases are jurisdictional issues (that is, which country can grant your divorce), choice of law (what law will be applied), child custody issues, removal of a child by one parent to another country, distribution of real and personal properties located in other countries, validity of a foreign divorce in the U.S. etc.

Consider these following examples of international divorce:

  1. Susan, a US citizen residing in Texas marries George who is British. After two years of living together, the parties separate and George goes back to London to look after his family business. Susan files for divorce in Texas, and George files in UK.
  2. Priyanka and Shujoy – both Indian nationals, got married in India. Priyanka moved to Texas with a job, and Shujoy joined her soon afterwards. Due to growing incompatibilities between the spouses, the couple decides to get a divorce in Texas.
  3.  Let’s add some facts to the above example: Soon after they decide that they cannot live together anymore, Shujoy leaves for India and initiates divorce proceeding there. Priyanka, immediately after knowing the fact files for divorce in Texas.
  4. Jim and Amy, both U.S. citizens got married in Texas. The couple moves to Brazil. After a few years into their marriage, the couple decides to divorce.
  5. Same fact as above, but let’s say, Jim and Amy purchased some properties in Peru (a vacation home) and another apartment in Canada during their marriage. They now seek divorce.
  6. Jim and Amy lives in Texas. They have a baby boy Nolan. Amy gets an incredible job offer in Japan and now wants to take Nolan with her. Jim objects, files for divorce and wants to restrain Amy from taking Nolan to Japan.

All these examples shed lights on complicated fact patterns in an international divorce case. What consumes most in such cases are which country / countries have jurisdiction to grant the divorce and what would be the choice of law? If it appears that more than one country can hear a case, it becomes hugely important to decide which country will be the best place to file the divorce suit in? There are other procedural and technical issues involved too.

Can I File for My International Divorce in Texas?

Yes, you can if certain conditions are met. Even if you are an international citizen living in Texas or have dual citizenship, you can file for divorce in Texas if you can establish that:

  • You have lived in Texas for the preceding six month period, and
  • You have lived in the county where you intend to file the suit for the preceding 90-day period.

Let’s consider one of the above examples: Susan, a US citizen residing in Texas marries George who is British. After two years of living together in Houston, Texas, the parties separate and George goes back to London to look after his family business. Susan files for divorce in Texas, and George files in UK. Here it looks like Susan can file for divorce in Texas since she is a domiciliary of Texas for the past six months, and has also lived in Harris county for the preceding 3-month period (2 years).

Overall, if the Texas court has subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the divorce case and if you satisfy the Texas domiciliary requirement as stated above, you can file for divorce in Texas. Even if only one spouse meets the residency requirement (in the above example, George doesn’t meet the residency requirement), the Texas court can still decide the case. Problems, however can emerge about obtaining personal jurisdiction over the opposite party, especially if that party resides out of the country. Nonetheless, you should be good just to obtain a marriage dissolution decree in Texas without personal jurisdiction.

Personal Jurisdiction in an International Divorce

Often times in an international divorce, what appears to be quite problematic is acquiring personal jurisdiction over the opposite party who lives overseas. Personal jurisdiction enables a Texas court to impose  personal obligations over such an out of state party.

How can a Texas court acquire personal jurisdiction?

According to the Texas Family Code, a court can acquire personal jurisdiction over the opposite party if:

  1.  Texas was the last marital residence of the parties, and the divorce suit is filed before the second anniversary of the date on which the marital residence ended;
  2. The other party is served with process while within the borders of the state; or
  3. If there is any other basis consistent with the constitutions of the state and the U.S.

It is possible for the Texas court to acquire personal jurisdiction over a non-resident respondent via long-arm statutes. Consult your attorney about the long-arm statute in Texas and the available options you have to bring the other non-resident spouse under the personal jurisdiction of the court.

It must however be NOTED that even without having personal jurisdiction over the opposite party, a Texas court can still dissolve your marriage. But the court must have personal jurisdiction over the other party to do more; i.e. to impose personal obligations on him/her. That is to say, without personal jurisdiction, the court can surely grant the divorce, but cannot divide the marital properties or cannot decide about the children. Taking the above example, Susan can get her divorce in Texas, but the court cannot impose any personal obligations on George;. e.g. property distribution, child custody determinations, child support payments etc. Personal jurisdiction will be needed for that.

Validity of a Foreign Divorce in Texas

In cases where more than one country has jurisdiction over a divorce case, the divorce can be sought from any of them. That being said, you must also reckon the fact that divorce laws vary considerably from one country to another, and so does the actual practices of the divorce courts. Whether your divorce from one jurisdiction will be recognized as valid in another jurisdiction depends on a number of factors. But at the end, it all boils down to a few due process concerns.

Each case is different, but in general terms, if the foreign jurisdiction has jurisdiction to settle your divorce case (i.e., either of you is a citizen of that foreign country or has a residence in that country), that divorce will be deemed as valid if these following two safeguards are met:

  • Both parties had notice of the divorce proceeding, and
  • The opposite party had an opportunity to attend and be heard.

Therefore, a divorce from Turkey will likely be upheld in a US court if it is proved that the opposite party was served with notice of the divorce proceedings and had an opportunity to attend the process, or had actually attended / participated in the divorce process.

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