This article was originally published on Divorce and Your Money here.
Getting divorced in the United States is already complicated, but when you are facing an international divorce, the complexity substantially increases.
If you are a US citizen getting divorced abroad, you will be facing at least two sets of laws: the law of the country in which you are getting divorced and the law of the US. You may have international custody issues. You may have trouble tracking down hidden assets. The whole process is much more difficult, so you will need an International Divorce Lawyer.
Choosing an International Divorce Lawyer
When it comes to international divorce, you will need more than one attorney. In a “simple” international divorce, you will need an international divorce lawyer based in the local country or countries in which you are getting divorced. Also, you will need a US-based lawyer to handle any issues related to American issues you may be facing.
For example, you are living in Spain with your spouse, who is a native of Spain but has assets in New York. Your spouse wants a divorce.
You will need a Spanish lawyer to handle the Spain-related elements of the case, as well as a New York attorney to handle the issues there. Preferably, you will have an international divorce lawyer in New York with experience handling cross-border divorce cases.
The complexity arises because you will be operating under the Spanish divorce process for many of the issues in your divorce. At the same time, you may also have to determine if decisions you make in Spain affect issues you deal with in the US.
Hidden Assets Are More Common
When facing divorce in multiple jurisdictions, it is easier for a spouse to hide or obfuscate assets. For example, when in Europe, hiding assets in another country is no more difficult than taking a 1-2 hour plane trip. South America and Asia pose their own unique challenges. You will need international divorce lawyers and investigators with local knowledge in any country that you suspect may house hidden assets.
Get Financial Help
A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) can be helpful for structuring the most financially advantageous settlement under normal circumstances. When dealing with assets listed across the world, a CDFA with international experience is a must. Simple items, like understanding currency transactions and the valuation of assets, and other unique elements (such as dealing with cross-border real estate and investments) add unique complications to the process.
Furthermore, you will need to make sure you have a local accountant help negotiate and approximate any potential tax consequences of financial decisions you are making. With international and local tax rules, there are plenty of complex areas. If you are not careful, you could be paying the price further down the line.
Consult all attorneys before signing a divorce settlement
Here is one of the biggest challenges with negotiating an international divorce: the issues you agree upon in one country do not necessarily have legal standing in the US, and issues decided in the US do not necessarily have legal standing outside our borders. Therefore, you can end up in a position where you think you have resolved a key element in your divorce, only to find out that what you agreed to does not apply to the other country.
Before you sign settlement agreements or other issues, be sure to consult with your entire team to determine the most important issues.
International Divorce is expensive
Unfortunately, international divorce can be more expensive than a US-only divorce, given the more complicated legal and financial issues at stake. You will likely have:
1) An international divorce lawyer
2) A US-based divorce lawyer
3) A CDFA
4) An international accountant
5) A local accountant
6) Other support
Make sure you build the right team to help you experience navigating complex international issues.