Divorcing Outside the United States

Divorcing someone who lives outside the United States can be done, but it may add complications that make it more difficult than a purely domestic divorce.

Each state has its own divorce laws, and each state maintains jurisdiction over all divorces in that state. State courts enter divorce decrees for any marriage that meets the legal requirements, which includes divorces for couples where one spouse lives in another country.

Each state’s divorce laws are different, but all require that at least one spouse meets the residency requirement. As long as one spouse resides in a state, either spouse can file for divorce there, even if one lives outside the country.

In domestic or international divorces, of course, the easiest route is an uncontested divorce. The filing spouse drafts and files a petition. In some jurisdictions, joint filing makes this step even easier, particularly when one spouse lives outside the state or the nation because he or she will not have to appear at a hearing. State laws differ, but as long as both spouses agree to all the terms of divorce, filing jointly is the best way to go.

Divorces are lawsuits, so the petitioner must always give notice to the respondent. This is called service of process. Filing jointly also eliminates the need for service of process. If joint filing is not possible, the respondent spouse an always waive service of process.

If the location of the spouse is not known, the petitioner may ask the court for permission for service through publication, which normally means serving divorce papers by publishing notice in a newspaper.

Needless to say, a spouse living abroad who objects to the divorce filed in the United States undoubtedly can use geography to his advantage. A contested divorce under these circumstances demands the advice of an attorney.

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