10 Divorce tips for expatriate men

Divorce is one of the most stressful life events that it is possible to experience.  In the context of often overwhelming emotional upheaval, anxiety and anger, life changing decisions have to be made in respect of children arrangements, the division of assets and sharing of future income. Divorce is always difficult, but the pain and costs can be contained if a rational, informed, emotionally honest and child-focused approach can be taken. These divorce tips are prepared by our team of lawyers, taking in to account their experience in advising men through divorce proceedings.

  1. Protect your children

Do all you can to agree with your spouse that your children’s emotional health is your mutual priority. No matter the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage, you will always be child-raising partners.  Keep reaffirming this to yourself and to her and always put your children’s interests first. It your responsibility to read into and study the effects of divorce on children and to implement age appropriate strategies to help them through this difficult time.

  1. An atmosphere of mistrust could lead her to flee with the children. Keep the children’s passports secure and offer legal safeguards to alleviate her concerns.

A recurring theme of expat divorces, particularly in Middle East countries, is a fear of the potential repercussions of Sharia based laws in respect of the children. There have been a small number of high profile but fact-specific cases that have made national news in the UK that appear to have fed the underlying paranoia. The result is that at the first sign of conflict, there is an increased risk that mothers will simply flee the country rather than risk being subject to local law. Although such actions are treated as child abduction, if a mother flees with the children it can be a costly and uncertain process for the father to have the children returned.

Both parties should therefore be aware that that agreements in respect of children arrangements can be put simply before the reconciliation committee of the Dubai courts, to produce a binding agreement capable of enforcement in the UAE. The mother’s concerns can therefore be alleviated from the outset and the children are more likely to remain in the same country as the father. Further negotiations can be conducted calmly and free from mutual mistrust and suspicion.

  1. Choice of jurisdiction

A court’s ability to accept an application for divorce is called its “jurisdiction”. For expats, there is usually a choice of jurisdiction in which a divorce may take place. The choice of jurisdiction on divorce can lead to dramatic differences in outcome in terms of division of assets and income.

Jurisdiction will largely depend on the nationality, domicile and habitual residence of both parties. For example, for British expats, divorce and financial matters can be dealt with through the English courts, without them even leaving the UAE. This is because proceedings can usually be issued in England based on the parties’ “domicile” even for those who have lived abroad for years.

International family law is complex and is continuously evolving. Take advice from a specialist lawyer.

  1. Be reasonable to avoid litigation

Depending on the reasons for the irrevocable breakdown of the relationship, each party invariably has their own deeply subjective idea of what a “fair” outcome should be, both in terms of children arrangements and finances. At the beginning, those interpretations almost always conflict with each other.

Unless the differing interpretations of fairness between the parties can be bridged, then decisions about children and money will be subject to litigation and a family court judge, either in the host country or the home country, will have to act as the referee and impose a decision.

Where there is disagreement it is important for both parties to understand the likely outcome if their divorce was to proceed to a contested court hearing. Negotiations should take place in the shadow of the law where the divorce is taking place. It is important to protect your position rigorously so that you are not “taken for a ride” but it is no good maintaining an unreasonable position and increasing everybody’s legal fees, if that position will eventually have to be conceded.

Take expert advice and pursue only rational, properly pleaded, justifiable issues.

  1. She will always be the mother of your children

No matter what has happened, no matter who you consider to be responsible for the breakdown of the relationship, she will always be your children’s mother you will always be connected to her through your children. The approach that you take now will have long term implications. Difficulties in shared care arrangements and contact between a father and his children can often be traced back to unnecessarily aggressive behaviour during the divorce.

How do you want to look back on this period of your life? How do you want your children to remember how their parents behaved when they separated? Choose a mature, conciliatory and constructive approach rather than bitterness, anger, fighting and rapidly escalating legal fees.

  1. Look after yourself and try to be positive about the future

Life goes on in the meantime – you need to look after yourself, you need to perform at work, you need to stay strong to be able to show your children the love and support that they need. Exercise, eat well, socialise, take up a new hobby, take a holiday. Do not drink your way through hard times. You need a clear head and steady emotions to handle the many difficult decisions ahead. Look to the future – there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Many people before you have survived divorce and built a great life for themselves long after they had once given up hope. You are about to turn the page and start a fresh chapter in your life – it a great opportunity to revive neglected interests and friendships.

  1. Compartmentalise divorce related tasks

The divorce process can take many months and there is more to be done than you realise. The process and the associated emotions can sometimes overwhelm and start to consume every waking hour. Learn to compartmentalise the practical tasks that your lawyer asks you to complete. Strip out the emotion, get on with the task, put the information in your lawyer’s hands when it is needed.

  1. Consider seeking professional support

By all means seek support from family and friends but remember that their advice will be skewed by their desire to offer you unwavering support. Friends and family can inadvertently act as an ‘echo chamber’ and magnify the intensity of your feelings. An Echo chamber is a situation in which ideas are amplified by transmission and repetition inside an “enclosed” system, where different or competing views are censored or disallowed.

Your lawyer has a very important role to play in retaining an objective professionally detached viewpoint to help you keep sight of your overall long-term objectives, but your lawyer is not a trained therapist.

A professional marriage counsellor or therapist can help you to order your thoughts, think constructively, help you to come to terms with what has happened, and adjust to post separation arrangements.

  1. Everything you do say or write is potential evidence

It’s possible that anything you do say or write can be used against you – in or out of context. If you are unsure if you should send a particular email, have a trusted friend read it and make suggestions. Never send an email when you are angry.

  1. Instruct a good lawyer

A good divorce lawyer will help you to unravel the legal ties of your marriage, secure your financial future, and if there are children, help the parties settle into a workable post separation co-parenting relationship. If your soon-to-be-ex takes an aggressive or unreasonable approach, then your lawyer needs to be experienced enough to protect your interests and your assets.

For more divorce tips, read our other blog articles in particular these may be of interest:

What am I entitled to on divorce?

Expat Life: what if you don’t want to return?

Prenuptial agreements for expat families

Forum shopping: what it means and how to get it right