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Issues relevant to international divorce cases in Texas

Are you or your spouse living outside of the United States currently? Were you married in another country and are now residing in the United States? Texas, and Houston specifically, is home to many international residents. If you count yourself among these people then this blog is for you. Life can become especially difficult when you have to come face to face with a divorce. Those difficulties can be made even more so in the event that you are not quite sure how to proceed due to the problems associated with not knowing where to divorce.

In yesterday's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we discussed some important issues like jurisdiction and process of service that are essential to being able to get a divorce in Texas. As I alluded to a moment ago, these relatively “simple” issues are complicated when you consider the challenges that international divorces present. With that said, we will continue to focus on issues related to international divorce that could offer potential problems for you and your family.

Discovery

Discovery is one of the most important aspects of any civil case in the United States. Through the process of discovery, you and your opposing party are able to request and obtain information and documentation that are relevant to one another’s cases. It can be valuable when you consider that you may never know exactly what your spouse is thinking, but you can learn the basis for the positions that they are taking in the case. When you consider that most divorces settle before you ever enter a courtroom, learning how to negotiate with your spouse is incredibly important.

With all of that said, most other nations have no opportunity for discovery afforded to civil litigants. Their legal systems are more dissimilar than similar to our own and obtaining information, witness statements and documents are not a reality in international civil cases. Another aspect of our civil law cases involves privileged information that does not have to be disclosed to an opposing party. Again, you will not be able to claim many privileges that will prevent information from being disclosed in international divorce.

Like we saw yesterday with service of process, there are laws that govern how discovery can be conducted in international divorces. Again, many nations adhere to certain laws provided by these multi-nation treaties but have opted out of other portions. If you are subject to these laws then your attorney needs to know what laws are in effect in the country where your divorce is filed.

How will the property be divided between you and your spouse?

Beyond issues relating to your children, the other main area of subject matter that will be sorted out in your divorce is that of property. If you and your spouse have accumulated a significant amount of property (or debt) during the course of your marriage then you will need to know the potential, likely outcomes for the division of marital property in a divorce- whether it is filed in Texas or in another country.

You and your attorney will need to familiarize yourself with answers to the following questions:

  1. What is the method of valuing property in a divorce? It can vary significantly from country to country so it is in your best interests to learn the methods that will be used in order to prepare to make settlement offers to your spouse

  2. Are all items subject to division in your divorce or are there items that are off limits as far as the division is concerned?

  3. Equity refers to a legal principle whereby “fairness” will determine how property is ultimately divided. These are principles that are not outlined in statutes (written down laws passed by legislatures) but are applied by judges as they see fit based on their own judgment. You will need to figure out how the principles of equity will be utilized by the judge in your divorce- whether it is filed in the United States or abroad.
  4. What documents or testimony can you provide to a court in order to prove the value of a particular piece of property? Laws differ from country to country as far as what sort of evidence is acceptable and admissible into the record. What may be admissible in Texas may not be admissible in other countries.
  5. If you are filing for divorce in another country and have property in the United States you may have property appraisals, letters from attorneys or property tax records that can go to show how much a piece of real estate is worth. Again, you will need to see how much weight a judge is likely to give to these types of evidence.
  6. Finally, you and your attorney should consider to what extent your property can be divided in a manner that is not a 50/50 split. Many states in the United States basically have a presumption in place that property is to be divided in this manner. That may not be the case if jurisdiction is proper in another country. Prepare for the likely outcomes before you submit settlement proposals to your spouse.

Concealment of assets held in foreign countries

Suppose that you are an American citizen and your spouse is a citizen of Mexico and has a visa to live and work in the United States. You all were married in Texas and are residents of Harris County. You have filed for divorce after eight years of marriage. Harris County has jurisdiction. You own a home in Houston and some land in south Texas. Outside of that, there are no other property interests…at least that you are aware of.

However, it has come to your attention that your spouse may own some property that he purchased during the course of your marriage in Mexico. He is about a decade older than you and works in oil and gas. You two don’t share a bank account so it is relatively easy to imagine a situation where he has taken some of the money in his separately held bank account and used it to purchase some property and not tell you about it. Your main question is what right, if any, you have to this Mexico property.

If your spouse is trying to hide this property from you then it may delay the progress of your divorce. I have seen this more and more with international clients and people who are generally more mobile than in years past. The need to balance your rights to the property acquired during your marriage with the pace at which divorce cases move in Texas is one that needs to be considered by you and your attorney. You do not have all the time in the world to discover the property that may exist in other parts of the world.

One method that can be utilized in order to prevent your spouse from hiding or selling the property before the end of your divorce is to seek an injunction from your divorce court. Basically, making the judge aware of the likelihood of the existence of property in another country may be enough to force the judge to issue an order that bars your spouse from doing anything with the potential properties. In most counties, there are standard injunctions that are included in temporary orders that do the same thing.

Not all temporary orders are created equal

Like all other issues in international divorce cases, you may not be able to find the same protections available in other countries that you are able to find in the United States. Temporary orders may either not be a fixture of divorce law in other countries or may not protect you to the fullest extent possible. Court dates are likely not as prevalent in other countries, as well. While you may not be able to get a court date as quickly as you would like in the United States, having to only wait a week for a date could be relatively quick compared to many countries.

Keep in mind that if you are living in one country and have property interests in another country it may be necessary for your court to work with a court in that foreign country in order to ensure that the property is kept safe and in the same state it was at the beginning of your divorce. Enforcing any order that is obtained is another matter altogether, however.

Will an international court recognize a court order from the United States?

For the sake of the example that I am about to provide you with, assume that a court has jurisdiction under its own laws in order to hear arguments related to your divorce case. This may cause you to feel better about your situation due to your knowledge that there is at least one court in the world that can issue orders and generally process your divorce case. However, it is an entirely different matter altogether to have a court in another country recognize the authority of a foreign court to issue orders related to your case.

If you need to enforce a foreign court judgment related to child support, spousal support or other issues related to your divorce then you ought to know that there are international laws that provide protections for you and your spouse. For any nation that has signed on to these treaties, you will have a somewhat predictable outcome on your hands when it comes to your possibly needing to enforce a court order in the future.

Unfortunately, there are courts in other countries around the world that will not enforce court orders from the United States or any other country. If, for example, you and your spouse have a court order out of Texas that divides up a retirement account based in a European country that country may elect not to honor the U.S. court order. This could leave you and your spouse in a position where you have spent thousands of dollars in order to come up with a resolution to your divorce, only to find out that the resolution will not be honored in a foreign country.

The bottom line is that your attorney needs to know what can be determined in a United States court order and what must be left to the determination of a court in the country where your property is actually held. The inability to enforce a court order makes the court order worth less than the paper that the order is printed on.

Two issues to consider as we close out today’s blog post

Child custody matters in the context of divorce are usually complex. Even situations where you and your spouse agree on 90% of a custody agreement can be difficult to figure out. Add in an international dimension to your divorce and child custody matters ought to be seriously considered in mediation before bringing them to the attention of a judge- whether foreign or based in the United States.

Finally, as families become more and more mobile, relocation and divorce are two interconnected subjects that are commonplace in Texas. Whether you are moving to another country for work, family or military service, you should consider the long term consequences of your move. If you are uncomfortable with the long term effects that an international move could have on your family or your finances you should strongly consider whether it is in your and your child’s best interests to make that move.

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  12. Texas Child Custody Modifications

Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Divorce Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding Divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Child Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.

Our Divorce lawyers in Spring TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles Divorce cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, KingwoodTomballThe Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris CountyMontgomery CountyLiberty County, Chambers CountyGalveston CountyBrazoria CountyFort Bend County and Waller County.

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