How to divorce a stranger?

The world today is more connected than ever, people travel more and so it is not surprising that more international marriages are being created. Unfortunately, even these marriages are not free from divorce.

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Sometimes it can be difficult just to find out where to get a divorce. Imagine you were married in Old Town Square in Prague, she Czech, he German, and you lived together in Brussels, Belgium, after the wedding. Can you now get a divorce in the Czech Republic? We will answer this and other questions related to international divorces in today’s blog.

Divorcing a foreigner is more complicated

Divorces with a foreigner are more complicated in many cases. It is always necessary to be clear about where the divorce should take place and how it should proceed. For example, if you are not getting divorced in the Czech Republic, you need to be careful that the divorce is recognised by Czech law. In France, for example, divorce can only take place before a notary, which is not recognised by the Czech legal system. At the same time, you must take into account that international divorce is also governed by EU directives and the provisions of the Private International Law Act.

It also always depends on whether the spouse is available and cooperative. In practice, we encounter that clients often do not know where their foreign spouse lives and that he or she is untraceable from their side. However, even this does not prevent the divorce.

Tip: To make it easier for you, we have written a sample divorce petition.

How to divorce a stranger who is not traceable?

Let’s take a practical example. Mrs Jana was divorcing her husband and in the divorce petition she stated that it was not within her means to find out where her husband was. Because of this, it was not within the court’s power to contact him and send him the petition. The court proceeded by appointing a representative, also known as a guardian, for the foreign husband. Most often this is a law firm that is supposed to defend his interests.

The guardian proceeds in the divorce proceedings in the same way as the spouse would proceed alone and can thus appeal the divorce judgment or offer evidence. In most cases, however, the divorce proceedings are not prolonged.

Tip: Find out how a divorce works in court.

Divorce from a stranger can take years

And every undelivered document makes the whole process even longer. We will advise you on the most effective procedure, prepare all the necessary documents and, if necessary, represent you in court. The most common issue in such cases is alimony. Even in such cases we are ready to fight for you what you are entitled to.

In the EU, it’s mainly where you lived together that counts

In the European Union, a 2003 regulation tells which courts have jurisdiction in family and matrimonial matters, including divorce – or even annulment proceedings.

A bit simplified, this regulation says that you can be divorced by a court in the country where you are living:

  • the spouses are habitually resident, or the spouses were last habitually resident together if one of them still lives there,
  • the defendant is domiciled,
  • in the case of a joint application, at least one of the spouses is habitually resident,
  • or the petitioner has a habitual residence where he/she has resided for at least one year immediately prior to the filing of the divorce petition (if he/she is also a citizen of that State, six months is sufficient),
  • alternatively, the court of the State of which both spouses are nationals.

So if we take our model example where the wife was Czech and the husband German and they lived together in Belgium, then the following would apply. It would not be possible to divorce the marriage in the Czech Republic. The divorce proceedings would have to take place in Belgium because they are habitually resident there. For the divorce to take place in the Czech Republic, the wife would have to move and live here for at least 6 months.

The lawyer advises: At the same time, if you and your spouse both have Czech citizenship but live abroad, you can always get a divorce in a Czech court. For more information, see also our article: How to get a divorce from abroad.

Divorce from a non-EU national

If one (or both) of the spouses is a citizen of a non-EU country and the spouses do not even live in the EU, then the Regulation does not apply. Again, it will depend on where the spouses live. Each country has its own national legislation which says when its courts can and cannot rule on divorces.

In the Czech Republic, we find this regulation in the Private International Law Act. If there is no international treaty governing the situation or EU regulation, then the rule is that Czech courts can divorce you if:

  • at least one of the spouses is a Czech citizen,
  • the respondent (i.e. the one who did not file for divorce) is habitually resident in the Czech Republic.

So a Czech court can easily divorce a marriage between two foreigners if both of them are habitually resident here. In some cases, a Czech court may even divorce a marriage between two foreigners even if the respondent is not domiciled here – for example, if both spouses lived in the Czech Republic and the petitioner still lives here, or if the petitioner is habitually resident here and the other spouse has joined the petition.

You can file for divorce from a foreigner in more than one country

It is often the case that the laws of different countries overlap, so you may be able to choose where to get a divorce because courts in more than one country will have jurisdiction. As you can see, the rules for international divorces are very complicated, and even we are only describing a few typical situations, of which there are many exceptions.

We therefore always recommend that you take advice from a specialist who can also recommend where divorce proceedings are quicker, cheaper and more likely to be worthwhile.

Recognition of divorce decisions abroad

If you are getting divorced abroad and then returning to the Czech Republic, you need to have documents for the Czech authorities. If you have an EU divorce decree, you just need to have it officially translated into Czech. If you have a divorce decree from a non-EU country, you must have it formally recognised by a Czech court.

Do you want to be clear about how to get a divorce and not look all over the place for information? We’ve compiled everything important into a How to Get a Divorce e-book that guides you through the divorce process, gives you advice on what not to forget, and includes practical essentials such as a sample divorce petition.

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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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