Getting a foreign divorce in Thailand
PHUKET: Recently our firm was hired to handle a divorce case. This case was different from the typical family law divorce. The Thai couple met in the United States while attending college. They fell in love and got married in the United States. They completed their university degrees, lived in the United States for a few years, and then returned to Thailand.
After returning to Thailand, the couple began to grow apart. They separated and decided to terminate their marriage. The husband came to my office and asked a series of questions which I believe are pertinent to many couples in similar circumstances. There are many foreign couples, Thai couples, and mixed marriages living in Thailand who were married overseas and then decided to get divorced in this country. Here are some common questions:
Q) We were legally married in the United States but we never registered our marriage in Thailand. Do we need to get a divorce since we now live in Thailand?”
A) Thailand and the United States do not have a specific treaty on marriages but generally recognize marriages and divorces in both countries as long as the marriage relationship does not violate general prohibitions within each country. For example, a same sex marriage in the United States is not recognized in Thailand.
If a couple was legally married in the United States and does not violate Thai law or moral code, the marriage is recognized in Thailand. However in order to obtain certain spousal benefits, Thai nationals need to register their marriage.
Married couples who are now separated should obtain a divorce because there is the liability of something occurring in the future. They cannot get remarried since both Thailand and the United States do not allow bigamy or polygamy. The second marriage can be legally voided and the first spouse can claim a portion of the assets if the initial marriage has not been properly terminated.
Q) What do we need to do to get divorced in Thailand?
A) There are two options to obtaining a divorce in Thailand. Couples can register their foreign marriage at the local district (amphur). For marriages that have been registered at the local district and the parties agree to the divorce, the couple can go to the same distirct to register the termination of the marriage.
However for most courts in the United States to recognize a foreign divorce, it is important to ensure due process. This means that the court must have jurisdiction over the parties and proper notice must be provided. This is generally completed through an agreed divorce filed through the Thai court system where the parties submit to the jurisdiction of the court and allow a judge to issue a formal judgment.
Q) My spouse does not want her marriage and divorce to show up in Thailand. Is there another method for us to get divorced?”
A) If the marriage is not registered in Thailand, the marriage will not show up in the records. However, as stated above, this does not mean that they are not married. Legally couples who are married overseas are still married and should legally terminate their marriage.
An option is to file the divorce case through the Thai courts. While the divorce will be registered in the court records, the marriage will not be in the system.
The third option is for the parties to return to the place of marriage and obtain a divorce in that country. Every place has its own special requirements for a divorce. Most foreign courts require that at least one of the parties reside in the court’s jurisdiction for a period of time.
Q) How will the United States know if we get divorced in Thailand? Do we need to file something with the courts in the United States?
A) A Thai divorce will have to be legalized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and authenticated by the United States Embassy. However, a divorce or marriage does not need to be registered. It is kept by the parties as evidence of the divorce in case of future disputes.
Q) If my spouse does not cooperate with the filing of the divorce in Thailand, can we still proceed with the filing of the divorce?
A) It is possible to file a divorce for a foreign marriage in Thailand as long as all parties are provided proper notice and the court has jurisdiction over the parties. However, the process can be costly and take much longer to complete. There is also the possibility of the court not accepting the case because of the complexity of ruling over a divorce of a foreign marriage.
The dissolution of a foreign marriage is a complex undertaking. It is highly recommended that before starting the process, the parties seek counsel of a licensed Thai attorney who understands the requirements.
Additional reporting by Yuthachai Sangsirisap
Robert R. Virasin is a licensed US attorney and managing director of Virasin & Partners. Yutthachai Sangsirisap is a licensed Thai Attorney at Virasin & Partners. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.virasin.com.
— Robert Virasin
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