What You Need to Know About Getting an International Divorce in California

A divorce is considered international if one spouse resides in the United States and the other resides in a different country. Here’s everything you need to know about getting an international divorce in California.

In order to file for divorce in California, spouses must meet California residency requirements. The filing spouse must have been living in California for at least 6 months, and must have lived in the California county in which the divorce is being filed for at least 3 months. However, if the couple is a same-sex couple that registered their marriage in California and neither spouse lives in a state that would recognize or legally dissolve the marriage, they do not have to meet the residency requirement. In California, it does not matter where the non-filing spouse lives in order to qualify for divorce, but it may make it more difficult to serve divorce papers if the other spouse is abroad. Serving divorce papers requires a third-party over the age of 18 to deliver the required documents to the other spouse. This process may look different depending on the specific country in which the international spouse resides.

How do International Divorces Differ from Other Divorces?

In order to file for divorce in California, spouses must negotiate with one another to some degree. That is because California law requires spouses to make decisions about various matters such as establishing alimony (spousal support), child support or a child custody plan, and asset division. A detailed account of the process for filing for divorce in California can be found here. However, this process may be complicated by the fact that one spouse is overseas.

One way in which the process may be complicated is if the overseas spouse is unable to come home for a long period of time. If the divorce case is collaborative, meaning that the couple uses mediators or arbitrators in order to reach a divorce settlement, then it can possibly be handled via telecommunication.

However, contested divorces, which require court appearances, may not be feasible for international spouses, which is why it is recommended that spouses filing for international divorce attempt to come to an agreement out of court. Regardless of whether the divorce is contested or uncontested, California divorces take a minimum of six months (and contested ones can take years).

Related: Contested and Uncontested Divorce: The Difference

Property Division

The division of international assets becomes more complicated because international property may be subject to different laws and taxation policies, and therefore may be more difficult to value. In order to obtain a divorce, both spouses must disclose all of their assets and financial information and agree on which properties and debts are communal or separate. Despite this requirement, both spouses may not easily divulge all of this information, and international assets are easier for the overseas spouse to hide. Locating assets overseas is difficult, especially if the spouse is located in a country that does not have an agreement with the U.S. about navigating privacy laws. In terms of valuing property, spouses may need to hire an appraiser to value international property according to the policies of the country in question. It is worth noting that estate property is usually under the authority of the government of the country in which the estate property is located, while personal property such as accounts, retirement funds, and stocks are usually under the authority of the government of the country in which the owner resides.

Child Custody

Child custody battles are often the most grueling parts of a divorce process, and are made even more complicated when the divorce is international. More information on child custody laws in California can be found here. Some countries’ international child custody policies may be easier to negotiate a divorce with than others. For example, any country that signed the Hague Convention along with the United States will have common guidelines regarding international child custody laws. According to the Hague Convention, the divorced spouses’ children should continue to live in their country of habitual residence. Habitual residence is not explicitly laid out in the Hague Convention, but it generally refers to the previous homes of the child or where the child attends school and other activities. If the overseas spouse moves the couples’ child in a way that violates the Hague Convention, then the other spouse can petition California family courts to order that the child is returned to their country of habitual residence. Due to the complications involved with international child custody, it is recommended that spouses attempt to work out an agreement in the best interests of the children. If an agreement cannot be negotiated, then it will have to be reached in California family courts.

Legal Separation

If neither spouse meets the California residency requirement, a couple can file for legal separation until enough time has passed for one spouse to meet the residency requirement. Once enough time has passed, the spouse who meets the residency requirement can petition the court for a divorce.

Like a divorce, legal separation in California allows a court to make orders about visitation, custody and support, alimony, and property/debt division. However, unlike divorce, the legal separation status does not end a marriage or domestic partnership. Additionally, filing for legal separation in California does not have the same residency requirements as filing for divorce, which makes it an easier process for international spouses. Spouses may choose to file for legal separation for a number of reasons, such as not wanting to get a divorce (for religious or personal reasons) or not meeting the residency requirements for divorce. California judges can also make court orders about which party will pay the court fees for a legal separation.

Related: Legal Separation Laws in California: The Basics

Summary Dissolution

The easiest way to obtain a divorce in California family court is through summary dissolution. It does not require speaking to a judge, and entails signing an agreement that divides up community property and declares that neither spouse will receive alimony. If international spouses meet the requirements for a summary dissolution, it is likely the easiest path to obtain an international divorce. The requirements are as follows:

  1. Spouses must meet the aforementioned California residency requirements for divorce
  2. Spouses must be married for less than 5 years
  3. Spouses must have no children together, and must not be expecting any children together
  4. Spouses may not own or rent any land or buildings together (except for where they currently reside, so long as there is no one-year lease)
  5. Spouses must meet these maximum requirements for community property and debt values

Related: Summary Dissolution of Marriage in California

Contact Us

If you have any more questions about getting an international divorce in California, contact us. We’ll get you in touch with the right lawyer for your unique legal situation. Get your free consultation with one of our family law attorneys in California today!