The following article appears courtesy of The Q Wealth Report, a private newsletter published in England dedicated to offshore investment, wealth management advice and growth. It is reproduced here in full with thanks to its author Joe B. Gonzalez, a lawyer specializing in Latin American immigration services, and Q Wealth Limited, publishers of The Q Wealth Report. © 2006 Joe B. Gonzalez
A VINCULO MATRIMONII: OFFSHORE DIVORCES IN THE SUNNY CARIBBEAN
By Joe B. Gonzalez
You have probably heard of people jetting off to the Caribbean to get
married. But did you know, you can also legally divorce in a foreign
country, no matter where you happen to be located right now?
A vinculo matrimonii is a Latin term literally meaning "from the chains
of matrimony." It has come to mean a complete and final divorce, as
opposed to a legal separation.With up to half of all marriages in the
western world ending in divorce, nearly all of us find ourselves at some
time dealing with either our own divorce or that of a close family member
or friend. Divorce is frequently a tragedy for all concerned, but it can
be also be an opportunity for positive change and a fresh start. A speedy,
amicable, affordable, and legally valid decree of divorce from a foreign
country may well be 'just what the doctor ordered.'
The idea of offshore divorces 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-Are-Told" by a local lawyer, whose main purpose is to drag out
the process for as long as possible in order to extract from you the
highest possible fees!
In many US jurisdictions you have to wait 30-90 days or even up to two
years. This is even if both parties approach the divorce mutually
agreeing to it, without any fuss or fanfare - and that's also after all
the financial wheeling and dealing!
Elsewhere, things are even worse. In Ireland you have to wait four years
at an absolute minimum. In the Philippines, you can simply never ever get
The Origins of "Quickie" Divorces
Mexico can be credited with inventing the "quickie" foreign divorce
business. The jet-set of the fifties and sixties frequently flew to
Acapulco to obtain fast divorces. Later Tabasco, the smallest state in
Mexico, made a brief foray into the offshore divorce business.
However, all that is ancient history. Amendments to the Mexican
Nationality and Naturalization Law which took effect in March 1971
require that an alien be a legal resident of Mexico before he or she may
apply for a Mexican divorce. Becoming a legal resident is a rather
complicated, time-consuming process, taking several months. Because of
these restrictions, few foreigners will find it practical to attempt a
Incredibly, even though Mexican quickie divorces were stopped in the
1970s, we have found people as of 2006 still offering them for sale on
the internet. This is a scam of which potential divorcees should be
Fast Divorces on the Island of Hispaniola
Today, the fastest divorces in the Western Hemisphere are to be found a
short flight from Miami, Florida - on the island of Hispaniola, just next
to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
In 1971, just a few months after religious interests caused the Mexican
congress effectively to knock on the head the Mexican "quickie divorce"
business which had grown popular during the 1960s, an enterprising
Mexican lawyer persuaded 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
neighbour on the island of Hispaniola) passed similar laws, that are in
fact even more 'user friendly.'
This type of divorce has become popularly known as the 'VIP Divorce',
because over the years numerous 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 (the former president of Sony records).
Yes, sure these people have money. But Caribbean divorces don't have to
cost as much as you might expect! They are becoming more and more popular
with ordinary citizens - and above all with global citizen families, who
may well have roots in more than one jurisdiction already.
Dominican Republic v Haiti
Today, despite its ups and downs, the Dominican Republic is a successful
economy and a pleasant country to visit, boasting a highly developed
tourist sector. Therefore, it's preferable to divorce in the Dominican
Republic where possible. Haiti, in contrast, is the poorest country in
the western hemisphere and much less stable - though of course that
doesn't make its laws any less valid.
The big difference between the two is that in the Dominican Republic,
mutual consent is required. The defendant spouse doesn't have to travel
there, but will be required to appear in person to sign papers agreeing
to the divorce in a Dominican consulate elsewhere in the world.
In Haiti, however, unilateral divorce is allowed. This is useful where
spousal consent cannot be obtained for whatever reason, but a divorce is
required for remarriage, business purposes or simply for a fresh start.
The process requires public notices in Haiti informing the spouse of the
impending action, following which a default judgement granting the
divorce is issued if no reply is received within twenty-one days.
Recognition by Other Jurisdictions
As you might already have guessed, the big question on most people's
minds is whether this type of offshore divorce will be legally recognised
in their home countries, or wherever else they need it to be recognised.
Unfortunately, this is also one of the most difficult questions to answer.
But in a few words, the answer is generally positive! Here's why...
First of all, "offshore" divorce is perfectly legal. No doubt about that.
There is no law we know of anywhere in the world that prohibits people
from going to another country and getting divorced.
Whether it is accepted where you live depends in practice on whether
anyone disputes it. It's a fact that worldwide, more than 99.9% of
divorces are never disputed. The only person who is likely to dispute the
divorce would be your spouse. Most people obtain their spouse's written
consent - and then the spouse is precluded from disputing it later by the
legal principle of estoppel. Estoppel is defined in my law dictionary as
a bar to alleging or denying a fact because of one's own previous
contrary actions or words.
In the USA, courts in many states (for example New York) specifically
accept international divorces. Courts in most others accept them on a
case-by-case basis under the principle 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 granting "full faith and credit" to the
signatures of foreign courts. Such legalizations are issued routinely by
American embassies in the case of the Caribbean divorces.
It should be said, however, that some US states (amongst them most
significantly California) specifically do not recognise foreign divorces.
(That even includes Nevada divorces). Of course, this law was passed in
the public interest, and has nothing to do with greedy Californian
lawyers wanting all the action for themselves!
In England and Wales, the recognition of an overseas divorce is governed
by Part II of the Family Law Act 1986. Section 51(c) of that act allows
the English court to refuse to recognise an overseas divorce as valid if
such recognition would be 'manifestly contrary to public policy.' Courts
are also granted discretion to refuse recognition if the divorce was
obtained without notice to the other party, which could be applicable to
A quick check shows that this English law has never been tested in the
courts. So, although it would seem the English courts have some
discretion to refuse recognition of foreign divorces, we can also see
that in twenty years not one of the thousands of British citizens who
have obtained Caribbean divorces has had any legal problem in England
because of it. I rest my case!
The courts of Hispaniola provide, in many cases, an excellent opportunity
to break free from the chains of matrimony, bypassing tortuously slow
divorce procedures in other countries which can both financially and
emotionally taxing. A few days can indeed mean a fresh start in life.
However, this article was intended only as a brief introduction to a
complex subject. If you are interested in exploring offshore divorces in
more detail, I recommend you read the International Express Divorce Kit.
This publication, availble right now online as an online e-Book ($29.95)
goes into much greater depth on the matters discussed here, and also
includes draft legal forms for residents of various countries, the
documents your spouse needs to sign for a Dominican divorce, post nuptial
agreements, copies of the actual laws and legal precedents, and samples
of actual divorce decrees so you can see in advance what you would get!
Many other topics I haven't had space to cover here are also explored in
Guam divorces and the new laws applicable there from January 2006.
Pros and cons of divorce in Hispaniola (Caribbean divorces) versus Guam
What you can expect to pay in terms of court fees, legal fees,
Important facts and case-law you need to know in order to make sure your
offshore divorce decree is valid in your home country.
How to have a post-nuptial
agreement legalized by the foreign court
Four different ways
to end your marriage fast and legally - what you need to know about
unilateral, bilateral, divisible/bifurcated, and convertible
Using legal annulment
as an alternative to divorce
How to avoid internet
scammers who sell divorces which are not legal
Contact details of
reputable lawyers who
can process your foreign divorce for you