Divorcing Overseas: Hot Spots for Quickie Divorces

Divorcing Overseas: Hot Spots for Quickie Divorces

by Leanne Phillips, December 2009

Before you were married, you spent a full year and thousands of dollars planning the picture perfect wedding ceremony. But now that the magic has faded, you want out . . . now! For anyone willing to spend a few bucks and perhaps make a quick trip to a foreign land, a quickie overseas divorce might be the perfect solution.

Plan the Perfect Divorce in just 24 hours

If you are willing to travel outside the United States, a divorce in the Dominican Republic might be just the ticket for you. Laws in the Dominican Republic waive requirements such as residency and waiting periods for foreign visitors who are in agreement and seek a mutual divorce. However, at least one party must attend the hearing on the divorce in Santo Domingo. The party who is not attending the hearing must sign a special power of attorney form.

The good news is that the Dominican Republic is located near the U.S. Virgin Islands, a short flight from Miami, Florida. There are no residency requirements and your divorce will be final within as little as 24 hours. However, an important drawback to note is that not all states recognize a divorce granted in the Dominican Republic.

In fact, New York is one of the few states to recognize Dominican divorces as valid. Most states, including California, consider such divorces invalid unless the parties first establish residency in the Dominican Republic. Additionally, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that all unilateral foreign divorces, where only one party signs the paperwork, are invalid.

No need to step off of American soil

If you do not want to leave American soil and also want the best chance of having your marriage recognized in the United States, Guam may be a better choice. If you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse are in agreement, you can both sign a simple "consent to jurisdiction" form and obtain a quick and easy Guam divorce without ever leaving the United States. Your divorce will be handled by a Guam attorney in cooperation with a United States-based legal service specializing in overseas divorces. Generally, a hearing date will be scheduled for approximately four to five weeks after filing. Neither party is required to attend the hearing, and the divorce will normally be granted at the time of the hearing. For an additional fee, you may be able to get your divorce in as little as a few days. An added bonus is that, as Guam is a territory of the United States and falls under United States jurisdiction, the divorce will be recognized as valid in any of the fifty states. And, if appropriate, a decree can be granted as to marital status only, allowing the parties to iron out property and other issues later, even in another court.

Here's the tricky part: Guam actually does have a 90-day residency requirement. However, under Guam law, where both parties are in agreement regarding the divorce and consent to jurisdiction, Guam is presumed to have jurisdiction over the parties. Additionally, Guam law does not require residency to be pleaded or proved, and the court is not required to make any findings regarding residency. Finally, where the parties have consented to the divorce, only the parties themselves can raise the issue of jurisdiction. This series of loopholes operates to allow a significant number of Americans to obtain Guam divorces each year without ever leaving the country.

Countries to avoid if you want a quick and painless divorce

Mexico used to be the go-to country for the quickie divorce, granting divorces in as little as three hours, and in some cases even granting mail-order divorces. Between 1940 and 1960, when some states had residency requirements as long as three years, approximately 500,000 United States couples obtained quickie Mexican divorces. However, many United States courts found these divorces to be invalid, particularly where the divorce was unilateral. Tired of its reputation as the place to come for a quick divorce, and bowing to political and religious pressure, Mexico enacted prohibitive and complex residency requirements in the early 1970s, making Mexico a poor option for those seeking a quick dissolution of their marital ties.

Similarly, Haitian divorces in the Caribbean used to be quite popular, as well as quick and easy to obtain. However, unilateral Haitian divorces are considered invalid as a result of the Supreme Court's ruling. As with Dominican divorces, even bilateral Haitian divorces are considered invalid in many states. Additionally, a Haitian divorce requires one party to appear in court, and it is now considered too dangerous to travel to Haiti due to civil unrest.

For those seeking an overseas divorce, the most important consideration is whether the divorce will be recognized as valid stateside. Realize that, as long as both parties are in agreement and the divorce is mutual, the likelihood of the validity of the divorce ever being challenged is almost non-existent. And keep in mind that such challenges can happen with any divorce. For example, California courts have dealt with the issue of one spouse challenging the validity of a divorce granted to the other spouse in Nevada. In that case, the complaining spouse attempted to prove that the divorcing party did not establish residency with the intent to remain in the state of Nevada permanently. Interestingly, the California court considered the divorce invalid, while the Nevada court upheld its validity.

The bottom line is, for anyone venturing outside the United States to obtain a quick, overseas divorce, there are special risks involved. Before doing so, investigate your options thoroughly to make sure that you meet all residency and other requirements. This option should be considered only if both parties are in agreement and the divorce will be bilateral or mutual. Finally, make sure that a divorce granted by a court in the jurisdiction of your choice will be recognized by the United States, as well as the particular state in which you reside.