Certified Translation and Foreign Divorces

January 14, 2013

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Certified translation services come in handy during international divorces. In a globalized society it should come as no surprise that marriages involving dual citizenship are increasingly common. And, as you can suspect, dual citizenship marriages aren't immune to divorce or its financial implications. Divorce of any kind is always a complicated legal matter, all the more so when different countries and languages are thrown into the mix.

But to start, what exactly is dual citizenship?

The US Department of State acknowledges that a person can be a citizen of two countries at the same time. Sometimes dual citizenship happens automatically. For example, a child born in a foreign country to US citizen parents may be both a US citizen and a citizen of the country of birth. In other cases, it's a matter of choice. Again, according to the US Department of State, a US citizen may acquire foreign citizenship by marriage, or a person naturalized as a US citizen may not lose the citizenship of the country of birth as US law does require a person to choose one citizenship or another. However, although a person who is automatically granted another citizenship does not risk losing US citizenship, a person who acquires a foreign citizenship by applying for it may lose US citizenship.

How does this all apply when it comes to getting a divorce? Even if you are a US citizen, the court with jurisdiction will most likely be the one in the country where you live. This is an important consideration. For example, if you don't speak the country's official language, you will need certified document translations and interpreter services. On the more extreme side, if this is a country that doesn't afford women the same rights as men, it could be difficult to even get a divorce, let alone a fair settlement.

If you own home(s) abroad and have flexibility as to the location and timing of your divorce, it is well worth the effort to research the most favorable venue. Countries vary in such things as acceptable grounds for divorce, alimony, property distribution, child custody and child support. That is why it is always recommended to consult with an international family lawyer.

One interesting question often raised in foreign divorces: If you get divorced in a foreign country and then move to another - or back home - does the new country recognize your divorce? In other words, are you divorced? In general, if both parties lived in the jurisdiction where the divorce was granted, then most likely the divorce will be universally recognized (but often times you will be required to provide a foreign language translation of the divorce decree). That being said, it should be noted that there is no treaty between the US and any other country ensuring recognition of foreign divorces. Although the State Department does note that divorces obtained in foreign countries are generally legally recognized in the US if both parties were living in the country in question when it was issued, there are exceptions. For example, several states, including California, will not recognize a divorce decree obtained abroad when both spouses were living in their home state.

The starting point for a dual citizenship divorce is always to consult with a professional who is an expert in the divorce laws of the country you are living in. If children are involved, consulting a professional early is essential as international child custody issues are complex, a topic to be further discussed. But in general, international child custody disputes are governed by the Hague Convention, which binds member states to recognize which state is the child's 'habitual residence' and to recognize and enforce measures taken in that state of habitual residence, which could result in the return of the child to that state. The overriding test is the welfare of the child, which is examined on a case by case basis.

While most Western countries abide by the Hague Convention, others do not - Saudi Arabia, for example. As such, the abduction of a child from the US to Saudi Arabia is not a crime under Saudi law unless there is already a Saudi court order regarding custody of the child. But if a parent is entitled to custody according to a Saudi court decision, then the Saudi courts would consider parental child abduction a criminal offense. Needless to say, it is harder for child custody cases to be resolved when the dual citizenship or residence involves jurisdictions like Saudi Arabia than those countries operating under the Hague Convention.