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Basics of International Divorce-Key Takeaways

You and your spouse live in different countries and you want to get divorced. First of all, make sure you consult with an attorney who handles only family law cases. You need someone who specializes in only family law to handle your case because this is an area where state and international law will both need to be applied to your case.

Next, know that in order to file for divorce in the United States you and your spouse must meet the basic residency requirements of the state where you want to file for divorce. In Missouri, this means you must have been a resident for at least 90 days prior to the filing of your divorce petition. You must also have jurisdiction over your spouse in order to file in Missouri. If your spouse never lived in Missouri and has no connections to Missouri then you do not have jurisdiction over your spouse in Missouri.

If you don't meet these basic residency requirements then you will have to file for divorce in the country where you and/or your spouse currently reside. Missouri will recognize a foreign divorce although enforcing child support and maintenance orders will be difficult depending on what country your spouse lives in.

With respect to custody of children the UCCJEA (Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Enforcement Act) applies in Missouri with respect to where custody orders are entered. What this really means is that where the children have lived for at least the six months prior to filing is going to matter in terms of determining where custody orders will be entered. Missouri courts may not want to enter custody orders if your children have spent more of the last six months prior to filing abroad than they have spent in Missouri.

With international cases there is always the concern about the possibility of child abduction. The 1980 Hague Convention has established procedures to return children who have been abducted internationally, but it only applies to countries that have signed it. This means that you should be especially wary about entering into custody agreements with parents who live in a country that does not honor the Hague Convention. It also means you should never agree to send your children to a country that is not a member of the Hague; even if it is just for vacation purposes (e.g. Mexico). A simple google search will tell you which countries are members of the Hague Convention so you know where you should never send your children.

With respect to child support we have the U.S. Office of Child Support Enforcement which has an agreement with 26 other countries to help enforce child support orders when a parent lives overseas. Again, the country your spouse resides in matters because that country may or may not assist with enforcing Missouri child support orders.

With respect to maintenance or alimony a key takeaway is that unless you can get your former spouse into the United States it is going to be difficult, if not impossible to enforce a maintenance order while he or she is living outside of the United States.

In terms of property division American courts value international property according to the laws and taxes of the country where the property is located and then typically divide it according to Missouri law. Not all countries will support and enforce a Missouri judgment so you may end up with attorneys in both Missouri and in the country where the property is located in order to get divorced. You may also want to consult with an attorney in the country where your spouse lives so you can get an idea of how that property will be valued, whether that country is a member of the Hague, and whether that country will enforce your custody and/or child support order.

In conclusion, get a specialized family law attorney to handle your case. Then, know that a lot will depend on what country you are dealing with in terms of the remedies available to you when it comes to your international divorce.