International Divorce – can I divorce my spouse living overseas?
If you are living in South Africa and your spouse overseas, you are able to institute divorce proceedings against your spouse through a South African. The same applies when you are a South African citizen that lives overseas and one spouse resides in South Africa. Also foreigners living in South Africa may approach a South African court to institute divorce proceedings. A South African court has jurisdiction where the parties or either of the parties are domiciled in the area of the court’s jurisdiction on the date on which the action is instituted or ordinarily resident in the area of jurisdiction of the court on the date on which the action is instituted or has been ordinarily resident in the Republic for a period of not less than one year immediately prior to that date. Domicile is a matter of choice and although a person might work overseas a South African court may still have jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
The person instituting the divorce proceedings are called the Plaintiff. Where the parties reached a settlement, only the Plaintiff appears in Court. So, if a Plaintiff works or lives overseas he/she will have to appear in a South African court once the matter is placed on the Court roll. The same applies if the Plaintiff resides in South Africa. It is not necessary for the Defendant to appear in court where the parties have reached a settlement and the divorce is uncontested.
Where a Defendant (the person against whom the divorce is instituted) lives in another country, a Plaintiff must first approach the court by way of what is known in law as an Edictal Citation application, a Defendant may direct in an appropriate way acceptance of the Summons at an address in South Africa. This affords permission to a Plaintiff to serve the divorce documents on a spouse living in a foreign country by way of local service.
The proprietary consequences of a marriage are governed by the lex domicilii matrimonii, that is the laws of the place where the husband was domiciled when the marriage was concluded. The law of the husband’s domicile at the time of the marriage governs the matrimonial property regime of the spouses even if the husband subsequently acquires a new domicile.
If for example the husband was domiciled in England at the time of the marriage and no Antenuptial contract was entered into in South Africa, the marriage will be out of community and in terms of English law. Should the parties later emigrate to SA, the marriage would remain out of community of property. Thus in a contested divorce where the husband was domiciled in England at the time of the marriage, a South African court is obliged to apply English law in respect of the patrimonial consequences of the divorce, i.e the division of the estate. Maintenance however and the aspects surrounding the children, like maintenance, care and contact will be dealt with in terms of South African law.
We have been dealing with numerous international divorce matters in South Africa matters concerning South African citizens and has acted in matters for South Africans living in countries such as Australia, United Kingdom, USA, Indonesia, The United Emirates, Germany, New Zeeland, Namibia to mention but a few and have been able to finalise some of these matter in as little as three weeks.
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