International Child Custody
What if you and your spouse live in different countries and you want to get divorced? To file for divorce in the United States, you and your spouse must meet the state's basic residency requirements where you want to file for divorce. In Missouri, this means you must have been a resident for at least 90 days before the filing of your divorce petition. You must also have jurisdiction over your spouse to file in Missouri. If your spouse never lived in Missouri and has no connections to Missouri, then you do not have jurisdiction over your spouse in Missouri.
If you don't meet these basic residency requirements, you will have to file for divorce in the country you and/or your spouse currently reside. Although enforcing child support and maintenance orders will be difficult depending on what country your spouse lives in, Missouri will recognize a foreign divorce.
With respect to the custody of children, the UCCJEA (Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Enforcement Act) applies in Missouri concerning where custody orders are entered. This really means that where the children have lived for at least six months before filing will matter in terms of determining where custody orders will be entered. Missouri courts may not want to enter custody orders if your children have spent more of the last six months before filing abroad than they have spent in Missouri.
With international cases, there is always concern about the possibility of child abduction. The 1980 Hague Convention has established procedures to return children who have been abducted internationally, but it only applies to countries that have signed it. This means that you should be especially wary about entering into custody agreements with parents who live in a country that does not honor the Hague Convention. It also means you should never agree to send your children to a country that is not a Hague member, even if it is just for vacation purposes (e.g., Mexico). A simple google search will tell you which countries are members of the Hague Convention so you know where you should never send your children.
Concerning child support, we have the U.S. Office of Child Support Enforcement, which has an agreement with 26 other countries to help enforce child support orders when a parent lives overseas. Again, the country your spouse resides in matters because that country may or may not assist with enforcing Missouri child support orders.
Concerning maintenance or alimony, a key takeaway is that unless you can get your former spouse into the United States, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce a maintenance order while he or she is living outside of the United States.
In terms of property division, American courts value international property according to the country's laws and taxes where the property is located and then typically divide it according to Missouri law. Not all countries will support and enforce a Missouri judgment, so you may end up with attorneys in Missouri and in the country where the property is located to get divorced. You may also want to consult with an attorney in the country where your spouse lives so you can get an idea of how that property will be valued, whether that country is a member of the Hague, and whether that country will enforce your custody and/or child support order.
Attorneys at Ahearn Kershman, LLC, have experience with International Child Custody matters. Contact us to discuss your matter further by email or call us a (314) 774-2575.
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