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Legal Matters To Consider When Marrying Across Borders

By Candice Smith

So you have found the love of your life abroad. Perhaps you are recently engaged, or married and you are making plans to relocate to your fiancé's or spouses country. There are some things that you will need to take into serious consideration as you start your life as a married woman abroad.

The first thing to consider are your legal rights as foreigner living in your spouse's country. Will you gain citizenship as a result of marriage in the country of residence? If so, you will need to learn what the process of obtaining said citizenship will be, and what the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen are.

Have you taken the time to discuss with your fiancé or spouse about what your legal rights are in the event of your spouse's death and you find yourself widowed abroad? Make sure to have a last will and testament as well as legal documents outlining what provisions will be made for you and any children (including children from a previous marriage or relationship). In-laws can get nasty in times of grief. Making sure you are your children (if any) are legally protected will be an important part of securing your position while living internationally.

In the midst of all your blissful feelings of falling in love and the excitement of your new engagement the last thing you want to talk about is the possibility of getting divorced, but the reality is that divorce does happen, and no woman should be caught with her pants down in the event of one. I have had the pleasure of interviewing author and CDFA Jeffery A. Landers on a few occasions. As a divorce financial analyst, he works with some of the wealthiest women in the United States to make sure that they don't get taken advantage of financially during the divorce proceedings. In his book Divorce: Think Financially, Not Emotionally he says "When you're divorcing, you simply cannot risk being uninformed , indecisive, or bewildered about your finances. After all, the decisions you make both before and during your divorce will directly impact the rest of your life, for better or worse."

(Divorce: Think Financially, Not Emotionally pg.3)

Aside from finances during a divorce proceeding you will also need to hire a divorce attorney that speaks your language. Never sign any papers or documents in a language you do not understand. Make sure that the terms of separation or divorce are clearly outlined including terms surrounding child custody, visitations, and guardianship. In some countries, especially in the Middle East, that are governed by Sharia Law (Islamic religious law), the father may have legal custody of the children upon divorce (if they are over a certain age), and you will not be able to leave the country with the children.

Consider signing a prenuptial agreement. A lot of people feel uncomfortable with prenuptial agreements, because they feel like it's saying that your relationship is bound to fail. While a prenuptial agreement may not be appropriate or necessary for the young 20 something couple just starting out, it may be the best thing for a couple that is more financially established and each party has assets they have each acquired, or they are getting remarried, and want to distinguish what will be considered community property in their new marriage in the unfortunate event of another divorce.

Lastly, if you are a part of the LBGTQ community, you need to be aware that the country you will be relocating to may not legally recognize your marriage. Some countries do not recognize gay marriage, and will not consider you next of kin. You may have no legal rights or recourse in the event of spousal illness, death, separation, or the ability to file for divorce. Be sure to do your research, and legally cover yourself as best you can and have this discussion with your spouse in advance. In cases like this, it may be best to have a document outlining one another's desires and having that document notarized or prepared by an attorney in your home country (if your home country recognizes gay marriage).

Topics like this are far too important to turn a blind eye to. The expat lifestyle for women requires full responsible womanhood. Too many women get caught up in the emotions of falling in love and choosing a wedding dress and completely fail to negotiate for the actual life they will be living long after the last wedding guest has gone home.

Never forget that marriage is more than a wedding. It is a legal construct and if you neglect to advocate for yourself before the wedding, you may find yourself on the losing end of the stick all while living in a foreign country.


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