According to the Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary, a foreign divorce is one “obtained in a different state or country from the place where one spouse resides at the time of the divorce. As a general rule, foreign divorces are recognized as valid if the spouse requesting the divorce became a resident of the state or country granting the divorce, and if both parties consented to the jurisdiction of the foreign court. A foreign divorce obtained by one person without the consent of the other is normally not valid, unless the nonconsenting spouse later acts as if the foreign divorce were valid, for example, by remarrying.”
Generally, American courts and jurisdictions recognize foreign divorces on the basis of what is known as comity– the respect a court in one country gives to the other country’s laws and judicial decisions, if both spouses received adequate notice. Adequate notice usually means that one of the spouses was living in the foreign country at the time of divorce and the spouse that was living in the United States received service of process, which is the formal delivery of legal notice of the divorce proceeding.
People often seek foreign divorces because such actions sometimes can be done more rapidly than in the United States and because the terms and conditions (property division and alimony) are more favorable to the petitioner.
In the event a dispute about the legitimacy of a foreign divorce, a state court considers where the spouses live and whether the defendant spouse received adequate notice. If either party was living in the foreign country, then a state court normally recognizes a foreign divorce; however, if neither spouse was living in the foreign country when the court of the foreign country granted the divorce, then it is not entitled to recognition. Moreover, if the defendant does not receive adequate notice (the application for the foreign divorce and the hearing), then the court will not recognize the foreign judgment of divorce. The American court is much more likely to recognize the foreign judgment divorce when the defendant spouse receives timely notice of the application for divorce and for the hearings.
Care should be exercised when undertaking a foreign divorce. For example, divorces in the Dominican Republic may not be recognized in all jurisdictions in the United States or Canada. The Dominican Republic offers an overnight uncontested divorce that is popular with people who wish to end a marriage quickly. As part of the procedure, the petitioner receives a certified copy of the divorce Decree, authenticated by the office of the attorney general of the Dominican Republics and the Foreign Relations Ministry as well as the embassy or consulate and by the Embassy of the parties’ country of residence, with a translation into English or French. This is very important if the decree is later contested.
Before undertaking a Dominican divorce, a legal opinion should be sought about its validity in their place of residence. Many jurisdictions have upheld Dominican divorces, but courts in other jurisdictions either have not had the opportunity to rule on the matter or consider them invalid. In the United States, for example, the states of California, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Wisconsin regard Dominican divorces as invalid based on existing statutes or controlling case law.
Most lawyers advise that the recipient of a foreign divorce review it with an attorney.