International Issues In Divorce
Lower Fairfield County, Connecticut is the home of numerous international corporations, banks and hedge funds. These businesses have attracted employees from around the world. Fairfield County has become quite a cosmopolitan collection of people from various countries. Like all people, divorce becomes necessary among these people. They have the usual issues of alimony and division of marital assets, however, they also more peculiar issues relevant to people from other countries.
Foreign nationals who live in Connecticut, and who are trying to get a divorce here will have more complicated problems than American Citizens who are Connecticut residents. First, we have to consider if a Connecticut Court will give these foreign national divorce at all. Connecticut law requires that anyone who wants to file for divorce in Connecticut must fulfill various jurisdictional requirements. Usually, at least one of the parties must have lived in Connecticut for at least one year prior the filing of the divorce complaint. This can be a problem is the parties were already separated when one of the parties came to live in Westport or Greenwich. In this case, the person would have to wait to have lived here in Connecticut for one year before he or she could file for divorce.
A person may be able to get a Connecticut Court to grant a divorce if he or she can show that the marriage broke after that person moved to Connecticut.
Often I encounter clients who have waited the one year, but their spouse is still living in a foreign country. Connecticut Courts will not issue a divorce unless you can show that the person living in the foreign country has had notice that the divorce action is pending in Connecticut and has an opportunity to be heard here in Connecticut. This is true in every divorce case, however, it is more complicated in international cases. The State of Connecticut has several statutes that deal with service of process in a foreign country. In addition, The United States has signed the Hague Convention on service of process.
If you are going to have to serve papers overseas, its best if you can do so in a country that has signed the Hague Convention. The United States, Canada and most European countries are signatories. The Hague Convention sets up appropriate processes and procedures for service of process s in their country on their own citizens. The foreign government will serve the papers and return documents showing that they have been served. The Connecticut court will need these returned documents before it can proceed with a divorce.
Once you have served the papers and filed them in court, you may now proceed with the rest of your divorce. However, if the parties own property overseas, you may find it hard to have any financial orders enforced. If both the husband the wife appeared in the Connecticut case, then its clear that Connecticut had jurisdiction over the parties to make financial awards. In this case, even a foreign court is likely to enforce a Connecticut judgment when it comes to issues of division of property, alimony or child support.
However, if only one of the spouses is a party to the divorce in Connecticut, then it will be more difficult to enforce any financial orders. If the other party did not participate in the Connecticut case, then the only judgment that you can get in Connecticut is a default judgment. Many foreign courts will not enforce a foreign default judgment. Even other states within the United States will not enforce a default judgment. In this case, you may need the assistance of local counsel in the country where you would like the judgment enforced.
Often , I have encountered cases where foreign nationals who are living here decide to ignore Connecticut courts altogether, and get their divorce in their home country. This causes problems also. As stated above, Connecticut courts want to know that a party has contacts to the jurisdiction that issued the court order. What constitutes sufficient contacts is a subject beyond the scope of this article. If one party changes their mind, and decides to oppose having the foreign judgment enforced in Connecticut, then this issue could become a problem. I have had success in getting foreign judgments enforced in Connecticut even when the parties hadn’t lived in the foreign country for many years.
Clients have also come to me to ask me what about the so called quickie divorces that can be obtained in some other countries such as Haiti or Mexico. These foreign judgments are completely unenforceable in Connecticut unless the other side participated in them, and agreed to them. Usually, these judgments do not even require that the other side be given time to respond to the divorce complaint that is filed there. Connecticut does not enforce judgments that violate Connecticut State policy. Any judgment that is obtained without providing notice to the other party clearly violates Connecticut policy. My usual advice to people who ask about these so called quickie divorces is don’t waste your money.
International issues also arise in the context of the myriad of visas that allow foreign nationals to remain in the U.S. Some of these visas allow people to remain her for years, and this is long enough for a marriage to breakdown and the people to seek a divorce. Often one party will have permanent residence and the other party will not. This poses difficult issues when it comes to determining child custody. For if one parent is going to have to leave the country when their visa expires, then the parents will be living in different countries. One should not presume that a court will automatically award custody to the parent who is staying in the United States. The court will consider many factors, including the children’s relationship with each parent, the country where the children will go and the conditions there. In International Child Custody cases, the court is guided by what is in the best interests of the child, just as it is in every other case. For more on international child custody cases, please see the webpage of the same title on this website.