Settling an international divorce: My ex lives abroad, what should I do?

Woman walking with the luggage in the airport

A divorce can seem like quite a headache when your ex-spouse lives abroad. What can I do? Can I even file for divorce in Quebec? If so, where do I start? And how long will it take? Is there any possibility of settling out of court? What if my ex-spouse does not respond or cooperate? What if I don’t know his/her physical address? Is there a deadline for initiating proceedings?


These are all questions that can go through your mind when your spouse lives abroad. It is important to follow these few steps before starting your international divorce:


Residence in Quebec


There are two possible scenarios in an international divorce case: either you reside abroad or your ex-spouse resides outside of Canada. In both cases, it is essential that one of you reside in Quebec in order to file for divorce here. It is not necessary for both spouses to live in Quebec to initiate a divorce. In any case, the spouse who lives in Quebec must have resided in the province for at least 12 consecutive months.


We must specify that when we talk about residence, we are referring to the place you live in Quebec, not a permanent resident immigration status. Thus, once you are able to prove and declare that you have resided in Quebec for at least 12 months, the door is open for you to file for divorce in Quebec.



Separation, Adultery or Cruelty? A True Reason for the Breakdown of the Marriage


The second point to be considered is the reason for the divorce. Wanting a divorce is not enough to start the divorce process. It takes a valid reason according to the Divorce Act. The objective behind this is to make sure that the divorce is not an impulsive decision in a moment of crisis but rather a decision well thought out by the spouses. You must also be convinced that no reconciliation is possible.


So, what are these « legal » reasons? The first reason is the separation of at least one year between the spouses. Indeed, you must declare that you have been separated for at least one year before you can get your divorce. Does this mean that you could not file for divorce before then? Certainly not! But, if you have not been separated for at least one year, you will have the 12 months before obtaining your final divorce judgment.


When we refer to a separation, we are talking about both a physical separation and a real intention to live apart. When your ex-spouse lives abroad, it is not very difficult to demonstrate that you are no longer living together. As for the intention to live apart, it is sufficient that one spouse has this intention to plead this ground for divorce. Both spouses do not have to agree to file for divorce. 


Needless to say, separation of at least one year will be the most common ground for divorce when one of the spouses lives abroad. Nevertheless, adultery and physical or mental cruelty making cohabitation impossible are also possible grounds for divorce and do not require a minimal delay of 12 months separation.


Proceedings for an International Divorce


When one of the spouses resides in Quebec and you have a good reason for the divorce, you are ready to start the divorce application…really?


It is important to know that an international divorce could be settled amicably right from the beginning, in particular when one of the spouses lives abroad. How to proceed then? First, you must establish a bridge of communication with the former spouse. If you know your ex-spouse’s email and it is active, we can help you communicate your position to your ex-spouse in the form of a settlement offer. The failure of the marriage does not mean that you have face a conflictual separation. There are ways to “peacefully” part ways.


If your ex-spouse is convinced by your offer to settle the divorce amicably, we can take care of drafting all the proceedings, the required consent agreement and affidavits for both spouses. The divorce judgment will be rendered on the basis of the spouses’ sworn statements regarding their agreement. This is a process that can take 3 to 6 months when all the conditions are met and the file is complete.


It is worth noting that the divorce application can be served either in person or by email if no physical address is known.


In this process, the ex-spouse will always have the possibility of being represented by a legal counsel, if he or she wishes. However, this is not a prerequisite for obtaining the judgment. If your ex-spouse contests your divorce application, then the usual process will begin and the relevant applications will be made to the court and dealt with during the hearings.


If your ex-spouse does not cooperate or does not reply to your divorce application, it will be possible to obtain a divorce judgment by default.


In any case, there is no real limit to filing for divorce. Only the conditions that are mentioned above must be met. However, if you have been living apart for some time, we encourage you to regularize your situation to avoid any ambiguity. The amicable settlement route is always desirable as it offers you the possibility of settling the divorce in a less stressful, timely and cost-effective manner. 


The Jurinovo team has significant experience in the field of international family law and is equipped to help you achieve a well-informed separation, and most importantly, your international divorce in an amicable manner!

This article contains general information  about family law and does not constitute a legal opinion. For legal advice about your personal situation, contact the Jurinovo team.


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