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How to Divorce a Foreign National

With the vast number of people intermingling around today’s increasingly interconnected world, it naturally follows that international marriage is becoming a common phenomenon. Unfortunately, these end in divorce just as often as any other.

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At times, it may pose a serious problem to determine in which country to divorce. Let’s illustrate with the following situation: You got married at Old Town Square in Prague, you’re German, your wife is Czech, and you’ve been living in Brussels, Belgium since the wedding. Can you get divorced in the Czech Republic now? Such and other questions are answered in this blog.

Divorcing a foreigner is rather complicated

If you’re a foreign national divorcing a Czech spouse, your case isn’t likely to be quite simple. First and foremost, you need to determine where and how the divorce will effectuate. If you’re planning to file for the divorce outside Czechia, make sure that the Czech law recognizes the divorce. For instance, the French only divorce at the notary, which the Czech legal system doesn’t acknowledge. Moreover, bear in mind that any transnational marriage is also subject to EU regulations as well as private international law (also known as a conflict of laws).

What matters in any case is whether the spouse is in touch and willing to cooperate. In our practice, we encounter cases when our clients can’t locate their foreign wife or husband. Rest assured, however, that even this doesn’t represent a serious problem when divorcing a foreign national.

How to divorce when you can’t locate the spouse

Let’s illustrate with a particular example: Jane was seeking a divorce from her foreign husband. In her divorce complaint, she stated that she was unable to determine her husband’s whereabouts. Therefore, the court couldn’t contact him to serve the complaint and subsequently assigned her foreign spouse a defence counsel. Usually, this is a solicitor’s office sworn to protect his interests.

The defence counsel strives to parley just as the absent spouse would and may put forth evidence or appeal the divorce judgement, although truthfully, most cases are not unnecessarily delayed.

Tip: Read about the divorce suit.

Achieving a divorce with a foreign national can take years

And what’ more, the suit is further delayed with each document you fail to provide. We’ll determine the best course of action, prepare any and all necessary documents and, eventually, represent you in court. Alimonies are the most frequent object of dispute, and we’re ready to defend your rights in this respect as well.

The place of residence is the determining factor within the European Union

The European Union abides by the 2201/2003 Council Regulation, which defines the courts holding jurisdiction over matrimonial judgements, including divorce or marriage annulment.

In a simplified way, the regulation allows a court to divorce a couple in the country in which:

  • the couple has their habitual residence, or had their last habitual residence provided one of them still lives there,
  • the defendant has their residence,
  • at least one of the spouses has their habitual residence if they filed a joint complaint,
  • the plaintiff has their habitual residence and has been living there for no less than a full year directly prior to filing the complaint (only 6 months if the plaintiff is a citizen of that country),
  • nationality is shared by both parties.

Returning to our model example of a Czech wife and German husband living in Belgium, the following holds true: the marriage cannot be divorced in the Czech Republic. The divorce suit should take place in Belgium, as this is the place of habitual residence of the couple. In order to achieve the divorce in the Czech Republic, the wife would have to move to Czechia and live there for at least 6 months.

Your Attorneys Online advise: However, it stands that if both you and your spouse have Czech citizenship but live abroad, a Czech court can always divorce your marriage.

Divorcing an EU non-resident

If one (or both) of the couple is a national of a non-EU country and the couple doesn’t live within the European Union, the aforesaid is void. However, where the couple lives matters in this case as well. Each country has its domestic legal system that specifies when its courts may and when they may not divorce a marriage.

In the Czech Republic, we need to turn to the Act Governing Private International Law. Unless an international agreement or an EU regulation exists pertaining to the situation in question, the Czech courts may divorce you as long as:

  • At least one of the couple has Czech citizenship,
  • the defendant (the person who didn’t file the complaint) has their habitual residence in the Czech Republic.

A Czech court can divorce the marriage of two foreign nationals provided both of them have their habitual residence in the Czech Republic. Under certain circumstances, it can even divorce the marriage of two foreigners when the defendant doesn’t live here – for example if both members of the couple lived in Czechia and the plaintiff still does, or if the plaintiff has their habitual residence here and the defendant has joined them to file the complaint

The complaint may be filed in more than one country

Many laws of various countries interlap, enabling you to choose where to divorce, as the courts of several countries may hold jurisdiction over your case. As can be seen, the rules for the divorce of international marriages are indeed complicated. This article covers several typical situations, but many exceptions exist.

For this reason, we always recommend consulting a professional who will advise as to where the divorce suit would be faster, cheaper and generally more to your benefit.

Recognition of a divorce obtained at a foreign court

If you get divorced abroad and then return to Czechia, you need to have the proper documents for the Czech authorities. A certified translation will suffice if an EU court divorced your marriage; otherwise, you will be required to have the judgement formally acknowledged by a Czech court.

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Author of the article

Mgr. Lucie Petránková

Lucie understands the legal profession like few others, and she defends the interests of her clients both inside and outside the courtroom. Lucie has won hundreds of disputes, and her role on our team is to ensure the smooth and effiecient transfer of real properties. She is also experienced in both civil law and family law.

  • Postgraduate studies Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Law, field: medical law,
  • Universita Pantheon d ´Assas Paris II,
  • Law, Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Law

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