Break-ups and divorce abroad: Prevention is a better cure


There are a lot of things one anticipates when moving abroad. Health problems, money issues, maybe even loss of a job. It is harder and less common, though, to anticipate break-ups and divorce. And divorce as expats definitely is no easy feat…

“When you’re already at the separation stage, unfortunately, there is nothing much to anticipate,” warns attorney Céline Richard. The lawyer specializes in family law and tackles particularly divorce cases of French expatriates in Canada. “The very first thing to do is to analyze the foreign elements of one’s situation with a notary or a lawyer and act accordingly,” advises Céline Richard.

The culture shock, working conditions that might have changed dramatically, new encounters and distance from family and close friends are all factors that can create a gap in a couple who has moved abroad. For the expat partner- 92% of the time a woman according to a study carried out by a French institution catering for French expats-, it can be challenging to find a job or an occupation in the host country and this can create frustration. 

According to Céline Richard, the expat partner should be aware of the impact of divorce on her or his immigration status and ensure a minimum of independence. “Separation also has an impact on the residence of children, custody rights and accommodation for the parent who will not have the children and, as a result, a financial impact,” explains the lawyer.

An actual puzzle

In a series of articles published on her blog and on the Huffington Post website, author and expat coach Katia Vlachos explored the intricacies of divorce for expatriates. She confirms that separating abroad is far from being an easy feat. “Divorce is fundamentally more difficult for expatriates because they have to rebuild their homes in a foreign environment far from their family, their friends, familiar social and cultural structures,” she wrote.

On the legal side, the issues raised by separation abroad are numerous. “The first problem is the jurisdiction of the court. But after that, you have the question of which law is applicable. For example, we have court cases in Paris, but the jurisdictional issues are referred to the foreign law. It can be an actual puzzle, “says Céline Richard.

Sometimes rules of international law apply. This may be the case, for example, with the Hague Convention, which regulates, inter alia, matrimonial property regimes and international child abduction. However, according to Celine Richard, some states may decide not to follow these rules. Thus, it is better to approach a lawyer from your country of origin, but also a lawyer from the country of residence.

Many countries offer legal aid schemes, but they are not always accessible to foreign residents. You can always check with groups of citizens from your home country or community organizations in the host country, such as women’s rights groups or organizations helping newcomers.

Rebuilding yourself

According to Katia Vlachos, surrounding yourself with the right people is key after a divorce. “Many people go into isolation during or after a break-up. For expatriates, this reflex can also come from their environment. Do not cut yourself off from others, even if you want to hide. Join an expat association, a reading club, the parents’ association of your children’s school. Talk to a friend, neighbor, colleague or other relatives. Use Skype more often and talk to your friends and family at home, “she says.

The good news is that expatriate couples are not more likely than others to divorce. In a survey on expatriation and relationships conducted in 2015, 80% of respondents say that they do not argue more than before settling abroad and that expatriation allows more communication. In addition, 76% of respondents added that expatriation allowed them to get closer to their spouse.


The Mazatlan Post