guide to divorce when one or both spouses live outside the u s

Guide to Divorce When One or Both Spouses Live Outside the U.S.

When going through a divorce, understanding the legal system that governs your situation is crucial. For couples pursuing international divorce, the process becomes more complex and requires specific knowledge. In this article, we will explore the steps involved in obtaining an international divorce and the key aspects to consider during the process.

How do you get an international divorce?

Residency Requirements

Before proceeding with an international divorce, it is essential to determine whether you meet the residency requirements in the country where you wish to file for divorce. Each country has its own rules, and most require a certain period of residency before filing.

If you are a U.S. citizen, you might also qualify for a domestic divorce in your home state, depending on its residency requirements. However, keep in mind that notifying your international spouse of the divorce proceedings is necessary, which could lead to delays and increased costs.


Obtaining an international divorce involves handling specific paperwork. The foreign country where you or your spouse resides may have its own requirements. Researching and preparing the necessary documents, such as certificates of marriage or divorce, birth certificates, and proof of residency, is crucial to streamline the process.

What are the most important things to know about international divorce?

Residency Requirements

As mentioned earlier, each country and state has its own residency requirements for divorce. Understanding these requirements in the country where your spouse lives is crucial if you intend to file for divorce there.

Spousal Support

Spousal support or alimony is determined based on the laws of the country or state and the circumstances of the divorce. Conduct thorough research on the spousal support laws in the country or state where you reside to ensure a fair outcome.

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Division of Property

Laws governing the division of property vary significantly from country to country and can be intricate. Familiarize yourself with the laws in your area, as they may dictate whether certain assets should be divided equitably or not.

Child Custody

Child custody laws also differ between countries and can be complex. Research the specific laws of the country or state where you reside and consider any relevant international treaties that may impact your case. Enforcing foreign child custody, child support, and spousal support orders may require additional legal processes in your home state.

Divorce Grounds

Some countries may require you to state the reason for the divorce, while others allow a no-fault divorce like in the U.S. Understand the divorce grounds applicable in the country where you plan to file for divorce.

How do you file for divorce if you’re in the U.S. and your spouse is overseas?

Serve the Petition

The initial step is serving the divorce petition on your spouse. This can be achieved through mail or in person, depending on the country’s service of process laws. If you cannot locate your spouse, publishing information about the petition in a local newspaper may satisfy the service requirement.

File Papers with the Court

After serving the petition, you must file the divorce papers with the appropriate court. This can be done by mail or in person at your local courthouse. Additionally, you’ll need to submit a certification of service to prove that the petition was served.

How do you divorce a U.S. resident while you are overseas?

Divorcing a U.S. resident while living overseas can be either easier or more difficult, depending on your specific circumstances.

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Filing in the Country of Residence

Filing for divorce in the country where you reside might seem like the simpler option, but you must meet the country’s residency requirements. Some countries may also require your marriage to be recognized before issuing a divorce decree.

Filing in the State of Residence

If your spouse meets the residency requirements for divorce in the U.S. state where they live, and you are open to attending divorce hearings remotely, you might consider filing for divorce in that state. This approach may prove more straightforward and cost-effective for serving the divorce papers to your spouse, especially if both parties agree on the divorce terms.

What if we’re both not living in the U.S. but want a divorce?

If both you and your spouse live abroad, obtaining a divorce in the U.S. is not possible, as neither of you would meet the residency requirements.

To get a divorce in the country where you reside, ensure that you fulfill the residency requirements and determine if your marriage must first be recognized in that country before a divorce can be granted. Additionally, be aware that some countries have strict policies on divorce.

Who can help with a foreign divorce?

Navigating the complexities of an international divorce can be challenging, especially in contested cases. In such situations, seeking the assistance of a qualified divorce attorney experienced in international matters is highly recommended. A skilled attorney can provide guidance and ensure your rights and interests are protected throughout the process.


Obtaining an international divorce involves navigating through various legal systems, residency requirements, and paperwork. Whether you are a U.S. resident seeking divorce overseas or an international couple residing outside the U.S., understanding the specific laws that apply to your situation is vital. Consulting with a knowledgeable divorce attorney can make the process smoother and ensure that your rights are safeguarded during this challenging time.

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  1. Can I file for an international divorce in the U.S. if I am a U.S. citizen? Yes, you can file for an international divorce in the U.S. if you meet the residency requirements of your state.
  2. What if I cannot locate my spouse to serve the divorce papers? If you are unable to locate your spouse, you can satisfy the service requirement by publishing information about the divorce petition in a local newspaper.
  3. Can I get a divorce in the U.S. if neither of us resides there? No, you cannot get a divorce in the U.S. if neither you nor your spouse meets the residency requirements.
  4. Is it essential to hire an attorney for an international divorce? While not mandatory, hiring a divorce attorney with expertise in international cases can significantly benefit your legal proceedings.
  5. Can I enforce foreign child custody and support orders in my home state? Enforcing foreign child custody and support orders may require additional legal processes in your home state, depending on international treaties and agreements.

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