How to Divorce a Person Out of the Country
By Beverly Bird
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Divorcing someone who does not live in the United States can be a little like threading a needle in a hurricane -- very difficult, but not necessarily impossible. The divorce process is the same no matter where your spouse lives; it depends on the laws in your state. Serving him with a copy of your divorce petition is the challenge, and service is required by law in all states to begin your proceedings.
Contact the embassy for your spouse's country of residence. The method for serving your spouse with your divorce papers outside of the United States will depend largely on the laws of his country. Treaty laws with your spouse’s country might also apply. The U.S. Department of State is also able to provide you with this information.
Translate the divorce complaint into the native language of the country in which your spouse resides. That country may require a translation even if your spouse speaks and reads English. The country’s embassy or the U.S. Department of State may be able to tell you if you must go through this extra step.
Take your divorce complaint to the post office if your spouse’s country is one that will allow you to serve him by mail. China, Japan, Germany, Poland, Argentina, Venezuela and Switzerland are among many countries that do not. If the country your spouse is living in permits service by mail, send your complaint to him by international registered mail, and complete postal form 2865 for a return receipt.
Contact the court where you filed your complaint if your spouse’s country of residence will not accept service by mail. If that country is a signatory to the Hague Service Convention, the court can request process of service as a “letters rogatory” procedure. The court will forward a copy of your complaint to a process server in that country and work through its government to get your complaint served.
File your mail return receipt with the court to prove that your spouse received your complaint if you were able to serve him by international registered mail. States may use different forms for this. The court clerk can advise you which form you must complete and attach to the international mail receipt. If the court has served your spouse through the "letters rogatory" process, you generally will not be required to do anything more, but check with your court to be sure.
If your spouse is a member of the United States military and is serving overseas, different rules apply. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protects him from having to respond to your divorce complaint while he’s on active duty, unless he wants to. If this is the case, consult an attorney to find out your options.
Even if you manage to serve your spouse and get your divorce, your decree might not be enforceable in another country. Although you'll be legally divorced, you might have an enforcement problem if your spouse is required to do anything under the terms of your decree, such as pay you money or sign property over to you.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.