The Truth about Foreign Divorce

Uncovering What’s Legal, What’s Not

A friend of mine from Russia visited me the other day. She is recently divorced, like me, and we started exchanging our divorce “war stories.” One thing I found fascinating from our conversation is that Russia only has a one month waiting period to finalize a divorce.

Here in Illinois, couples without kids have a six month waiting period, while couples with kids have a two-year period. The difference between those two astonished me.

The conversation also had me thinking about how divorce laws differ in other countries. While most have similarities, here are a few places where foreign divorce laws differ from ours.

Foreign Divorce Rules in 10 Countries

1. Australia

Let’s start with a country similar in respects to the United States. In Australia, the Sixth Part of the Family Law Act of 1975 dictates the dissolution of marriage.

The biggest requirement for getting divorced in the land down under is one or both parties need to qualify for one of the following four items:

  • Australian Citizens by birth or descent
  • Intend to live in Australia indefinitely
  • Currently have Australian citizenship
  • Live in Australia for at least the previous 12 months prior to the divorce. This excludes holidays and business trips.

Once you meet these requirements, The Federal Circuit Court of Australia requires that you live “separately and apart” for the previous 12 months with no intention of resuming married life.

2. Philippines

One of the last countries on Earth that still bans divorce. There are a few exceptions, such as a divorce to a foreign national in another country. The Filipino citizen can remarry in this case.

However, Filipinos citizens who divorce in other countries are still considered legally married in the Philippines.

Most Filipinos must opt for either legal separation or annulment. The process is a difficult and costly.

To be legally separated you need to prove your spouse has partaken in one of the following activities:

  • physical abuse
  • drug or alcohol addiction
  • homosexuality
  • infidelity

To get an annulment you must prove your spouse committed fraud or is mentally incapable of marriage.

3. Malta

Another one of the last holdouts to legalizing divorce. The tiny country is 98% catholic.

They even voted on a referendum to keep divorce illegal in 2011. The decision made them the last Catholic hold out for no divorces in Europe.

The country has a lot of the same laws as the Philippines, except Malta respects their citizens divorces that happen in other countries.

4. Egypt

Egypt has made some progress in the last few years, although it is still dicey. The good news is that divorces became legal in 2000. That bad news is women have trouble getting equal access to the law in this Muslim country.

Additionally, women must give up all property, and financial rights along with repaying their family’s dowry.

However, it is a big step forward from when women were not allowed to divorce unless in extreme cases. Men on the other hand used to be able to follow Islamic Law. All they needed to say was “I divorce you” three times to the end the marriage along with a notice to the government.

5. Japan

Japan has efficiency down to a science even when it comes to divorce. Couples simply fill out and sign a one-page form. No court needed. Can you imagine how much anguish this would cause attorneys in the United States?

A major hiccup in this process is they do not establish parental custody in the divorce.

One interesting rule that guys like is that divorced women must wait six months before they remarry. Men on the other hand can remarry the next day.

6. United Kingdom

Across the pond, divorce is fairly similar. However, they do have a few differences.

One of them is that to obtain a divorce you need to be married at least one year and your relationship must be completely broken.

The process is simpler in the UK. It takes three steps:

  • File divorce petition – Ask the court to divorce and state your reasons.
  • Apply for a decree nisi – Decrees nisi is a fancy way to say both parties agree to the divorce terms.
  • Apply for a decree absolute – The dissolution of marriage. You must wait 6 weeks after the nisi to get this decree.

7. Italy

The home of Catholicism has a bumpy history with the big D.

Fortunately, over the past few years lawmakers loosened the rules on divorce. This for a country that banned divorce until 1970. Back then they appeased the church with a 5-year separation period.

Yet, last year lawmakers reduced the waiting period from 3 years (1987 update) to 6 months with uncontested marriages. It turns out Italian politicians were attempting to reduce bureaucracy versus the waning influence of the church.

Finally, EU law requires Italy to respect divorces performed in other European countries. Many have been skirting the law in favor of quickie divorces in other parts of the EU for years.

8. China

Here’s one interesting component of Chinese divorce law. If you owned any property before being married, or you received it from a parent, the property is not considered communal property. Also, if only one spouse is on the deed, they are the only ones with rights to the property afterwards.

Plenty of American men (and women) wish they had this law, since previous property can still be considered communal in some cases.

On the flip side, this rule is a huge disadvantage to women who usually do not have a say in the home. Usually the man or the man’s parents provide the home to live in when they marry.

9. Brazil

Divorce became legal in this Roman Catholic Country in 1977. By 2010, they had a modern set of rules governing divorce. This included abolishing the 1-year separation requirement. Currently couples without underage or incapable children just need a notary to perform the divorce.

10. India

The country divorce laws vary based on your religion. Therefore, whether you are Hindu, Muslim, or Christian you might have different laws governing your decisions.

For example, the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 governs the reasons for divorce. Here are a few reasons to ask for divorce:

  • Cruelty
  • Adultery
  • Renunciation of Hinduism
  • Venereal disease
  • Leprosy
  • Joining a religious order
  • My personal favorite is disappearing off the map of the world for 7 years or more, and they do not know if you are alive or dead.

Final Thoughts

After reviewing different marriage laws around the world, it is clear the world is coming to see divorce in a more uniformed manner. That said, differences still exist from country to country.

These variations make it impossible to get divorced in Catholic Malta; however, a relatively simple administrative task in Italy today.

The coming years will probably make these laws even more universal as countries take cues from each other on how to proceed with divorce cases.

In the meantime, let us know your thoughts on which foreign divorce laws are the best and/or worst in the comments below.

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