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How to Get an International Divorce

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

With airplanes, cell phones, and the Internet making international connections so easy, international divorces have become increasingly common. Getting a divorce is hard enough, but how much harder will it be if you and your spouse live in different countries? Where do you file? How do you get the paperwork served? How do you enforce it?

International law is complex and the interaction of American family law and foreign law is even more complicated. However, ere are some basic things you need to know about international divorces:

Filing in the United States

If you are living in the United States, and your spouse is living abroad, you may be able to file for divorce in the United States.

Divorce petitions are filed in state courts. Most states have residency requirements for filing a divorce in that state. For example, to file a divorce in California, at least one spouse must have lived in the state for six months. Other state's residency requirements can vary from as little as six weeks, to as long as one year.

As long as one of you fulfills the residency requirement, you can file for divorce in the state you're living in, even if the other spouse is living abroad.


Filing a divorce with an international spouse usually proceeds like a normal divorce where both spouses are living in the same state. However, a prevailing issue with international divorce is service.

Usually, divorce petitions must be personally served. This means the petition must be handed to the other spouse in person, not sent by mail or fax. This can be particularly hard if spouse to be served is 20,000 miles away.

There are some possible alternatives:

  • Waiver -- If the divorce is amicable, you can try to get your spouse to waive personal service. You spouse will usually have to sign a waiver that you then file with the court. Once, this happens, you can serve the documents by mail, email, or fax.
  • Hiring a foreign process server -- If your spouse won't waive personal service, you can hire somebody in your spouse's country to personally serve him for you. This can be expensive, so consider your other options.
  • Service by publication -- If you know what city and country your spouse is in, but not his actual address, you may be able to petition the court for permission to serve by publication. This means you'll have to post a notice in a local newspaper for a specified amount of days. Once this happens, the other person is presumed to be served.

Filing a Divorce Abroad

If you and your spouse are living abroad, you probably won't be able to file for divorce in the United States because of the states' residency requirements. In this case, you'll want to file for divorce in the foreign country you're currently living in. Foreign countries may have some kind of residency requirements and their own applicable family law as well, so be sure to check local laws and get in touch with a local attorney.

Most states will recognize a foreign divorce as long as certain legal formalities, such as notice, occurred, and the documentation is proper. However, enforcing foreign divorce orders, such as spousal and child support, are generally harder to do when one spouse or the children did not live in the foreign country when the divorce occurred.

So, while an international divorce is definitely possible, you will probably need an experienced divorce attorney to help you navigate the legal complications and varying state and foreign laws.

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