International Divorce in the Caribbean

International Divorce in the Caribbean

You’ve probably heard of people going to the Caribbean to get married. But did you know that you can also legally get divorced in a foreign country, regardless of where you are currently located?

Marriage relationship is a Latin term literally meaning “of the marriage chains.” This means a full and final divorce, as opposed to a legal separation. With up to half of all marriages in the Western world ending in divorce, almost all of us have at some point experienced either our own divorce or that of a close family member or friend. Divorce is often a tragedy for everyone involved, but it can also be an opportunity for positive change and a new beginning. A fast, friendly, affordable and legally valid foreign divorce settlement can be “just what the doctor ordered”.

The idea of ​​offshore divorce is relatively new to most people in the Western world. When it comes to divorce, it’s always been a matter of “Do as you’re told” by a local attorney whose main goal is to drag out the process as long as possible to get the highest possible fee out of you!

In many US jurisdictions you have to wait 30-90 days or even up to two years. That’s even if both parties approach the divorce by mutual consent, without fuss or fanfare – and that’s after all the financial gyrations and deals, too!

Elsewhere, things are even worse. In Ireland you have to wait at least four years. In the Philippines, you simply can never get divorced!

The origin of “quickie” divorces

Mexico can be credited with inventing the “fast track” foreign divorce business. The jet set of the fifties and sixties often flew to Acapulco to get quick divorces. Later, Tabasco, Mexico’s smallest state, made a brief foray into the offshore divorce business.

However, this is all ancient history. Amendments to the Mexican Citizenship and Naturalization Act, which went into effect in March 1971, require that a foreign national be a legal resident of Mexico before he or she can file for divorce in Mexico. Becoming a legal resident is a rather complicated process that takes a lot of time and takes several months. Because of these restrictions, few foreigners will find it practical to try to get a divorce in Mexico.

Incredibly, even though Mexican quick divorces were stopped in the 1970s, as of 2006 we found people still offering them for sale on the Internet. This is a scam that potential divorcees should be warned about.

Quick divorces on the island of Hispaniola

Today, the fastest divorces in the Western Hemisphere are located a short flight from Miami, Florida – on the island of Hispaniola, just off Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

In 1971, just a few months after religious interests led the Mexican Congress to effectively hit Mexican business over the head with the “quick divorce” that had become popular in the 1960s, an enterprising Mexican lawyer convinced lawmakers in the Dominican Republic to pass law #142 allowing por vapor instant divorces for non-residents. Not to be outdone, in 1974 the Republic of Haiti (the Dominican Republic’s smaller neighbor on the island of Hispaniola) passed similar laws that are actually even more user-friendly.

This type of divorce has become known as a “VIP Divorce” because over the years many celebrities and thousands of other famous people have taken advantage of these liberal divorce laws. To name a few, in no particular order: Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow, George Scott, Mike Tyson, Robin Givens, Richard Burton, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley, Diana Ross, Jane Fonda, Mariah Carey, Marc Anthony, and Tommy Mottola (former president of Sony records).

Yes, these people certainly have money. But Caribbean divorces don’t have to cost as much as you expect! They are becoming increasingly popular among ordinary citizens – and above all among the families of world citizens who may already have roots in more than one jurisdiction.

 Dominican Republic vs. Haiti

Today, despite its ups and downs, the Dominican Republic is a successful economy and a pleasant country to visit, boasting a highly developed tourism sector. Therefore, it is preferable to get divorced in the Dominican Republic where possible. Haiti, by contrast, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and far less stable—though of course that doesn’t make its laws any less valid.

The big difference between the two is that mutual consent is required in the Dominican Republic. The respondent spouse does not have to travel there, but will have to appear in person to sign documents agreeing to the divorce at a Dominican consulate elsewhere in the world.

In Haiti, however, unilateral divorce is permitted. This is useful when the spouse’s consent cannot be obtained for some reason, but a divorce is needed for remarriage, business purposes, or simply for a fresh start. The process requires public notices in Haiti informing the spouse of the pending action, followed by a default judgment granting divorce if no response is received within twenty-one days.


Recognition by other jurisdictions

As you may have guessed by now, the big question on most people’s minds is whether this type of offshore divorce will be legally recognized in their home countries or anywhere else where it should be recognized.

Unfortunately, this is also one of the most difficult questions to answer. But in a few words, the answer is generally positive! That’s why…

First, “offshore” divorce is perfectly legal. There is no doubt about it. There is no law that we know of anywhere in the world that prohibits people from going to another country and getting divorced.

Whether it’s accepted where you live really depends on whether anyone disputes it. The fact is that in the world more than 99.9% of divorces are never contested. The only person likely to contest the divorce will be your spouse. Most people get their spouse’s consent in writing – and then the spouse is precluded from challenging it later by the legal principle of estoppel. Estoppel is defined in my legal dictionary as a bar to asserting or denying a fact because of one’s own previous contradictory acts or words.

In the US, courts in many states (eg New York) expressly accept international divorces. Courts in most others accept them on a case-by-case basis as a matter of comity. The Social Security Administration and the Veterans Administration are other departments that specifically accept and recognize international divorces. The State Department authorizes and requires US consulates abroad to legalize foreign divorce decrees by giving “full faith and credit” to the signatures of foreign courts. Such legalizations are routinely issued by American embassies in the case of Caribbean divorces.

It must be said, however, that some US states (most notably California) specifically do not recognize foreign divorces. (This even includes Nevada divorces). Of course, this law was passed in the public interest and has nothing to do with greedy California lawyers who want all the action for themselves!

In England and Wales, the recognition of a foreign divorce is governed by Part II of the Family Law Act 1986. Section 51(c) of that Act allows an English court to refuse to recognize a foreign divorce as valid if such recognition would “clearly contrary to public order”. Courts also have the discretion to refuse recognition if the divorce was obtained without notice to the other party, which may be applicable to divorces in Haiti.

A quick check shows that this English law has never been tested in the courts. So, although it appears that the English courts have some discretion in refusing to recognize divorces abroad, we can also see that in twenty years, not one of the thousands of British citizens who obtained divorces in the Caribbean has had a legal problem in England because of this. I proved my point!


The courts of Hispaniola provide in many cases an excellent opportunity to break free from the chains of marriage, bypassing the excruciatingly slow divorce procedures in other countries, which can be both financial and emotional. A few days can really mean a new beginning in life. However, this article was only intended as a brief introduction to a complex topic. It is very important that you take appropriate professional advice and read this topic before taking any action that could lead to unwanted legal consequences.

#International #Divorce #Caribbean

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