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Divorce in the United States is a matter of state rather than federal law. In recent years, however, more federal legislation has been enacted affecting the rights and responsibilities of divorcing spouses. For example, federal welfare reform mandated the creation of child support guidelines in all 50 states in the 1980s. ERISA includes provisions for the division of qualified retirement accounts between divorcing spouses. The IRS established rules on the deductibility of alimony, and federal bankruptcy laws prohibit discharging in bankruptcy of alimony and child support obligations. COBRA allows a divorced spouse to obtain and maintain health insurance. The laws of the state(s) of residence at the time of divorce govern, not those of the location where the couple was married. All states recognize divorces granted by any other state. All states impose a minimum time of residence, Nevada currently being the shortest at 6 weeks.
Divorcing in a different jurisdiction
There are four main reasons that people look to another jurisdiction for a divorce:
- Many jurisdictions do not allow "irreconcilable differences" as a legal cause for divorce, and without it generally fault is required (often with strict legal requirements) or a separation agreement in force for a year, such as New York State, thus requiring one year from the time the legal separation went into effect unless fault can be proven (possible in some cases just by affadavit however, but the other spouse must not contest the charges otherwise an often lengthy contested divorce is required.)
- Many jurisdictions have complex and long residency requirements as well as paperwork.
- Many jurisdictions take a long time to issue a finalized divorce, anywhere from 3 months to a year or even several in unique circumstances.
- Finally, some people are simply out to get around the financial hardship of a divorce, and get a divorce from a jurisdiction that allows fast uncontested divorces that offer little or no spousal support to the defendant.
There are 5 major jurisdictions people look towards for a divorce in another state or country:
- The State of Nevada
- The Dominican Republic
Haiti, Mexico, and The Dominican Republic are fairly similar in this regard. These countries people typically go to get an overnight/long weekend divorce, or to get a quick and relatively painless contested divorce (which are not valid unless due process has been observed.)
The State of Nevada is commonly used for a few reasons. It only requires a 6-week stay to meet the residency requirements, the lowest in the United States. One easy way to demonstrate that you have met this requirement is by having another resident of Nevada simply sign an affidavit testifying to your residency there. Nevada allows for "irreconcilable differences" as a cause for divorce, the importance of which are mentioned above. Also, it has an extensive and straightforward system for marriage annulment, and attracts people who would prefer an annulment (which declares the marriage wasn't valid in the first place) than a divorce. One major reason this attracts people is it allows for an easy bypassing of the mandatory 50/50 split in community property states, most notably the adjoining State of California.
In the case of disputed custody, almost all lawyers would strongly advise you stay to the jurisdiction applicable to the dispute, i.e. the country or state of you or your spouse's residence. Even if not disputed, the spouse could later dispute it and potentially invalidate another jurisdiction's ruling.
Mediation is a growing way of resolving divorce issues. It tends to be less adversarial (particularly important for any children), allows the parties greater control and privacy, saves money, and generally achieves similar outcomes to the normal adversarial process. Also, courts will often approve a mediated settlement quickly. A new movement towards Collaborative Law, where both sides are represented by attorneys but commit to negotiating a settlement and refraining from litigation, is also gaining momentum. If the parties and their collaborative law attorneys fail to reach a settlement, the collaborative lawyers are replaced by new counsel on the theory that the first set of lawyers will try harder if they know they will be "fired" if the dispute has to be resolved by a judge. Relatively amicable approaches such as this may reduce the trauma of divorce for all parties. Most experts agree that these methods are not appropriate for all relationships, especially those that included physical or emotional abuse, or an imbalance of power and knowledge about the parties' finances, for example.