Facing a divorce far away from home with little understanding of the U.S. judicial system and its cultural norms can be extremely daunting.
A client from an eastern European country came to the U.S. with her American husband and a newborn child after living abroad for several years. She found herself very isolated, unable to communicate with others outside her home because she did not speak English, and have little understanding of the U.S. way of life. She acquired no employment experience during the next fifteen years of the marriage, had few marketable skills, and knew nothing about the family finances when her husband announced that he was leaving her.
Another client moved to the U.S with her husband from Asia when his multi-national company transferred him to its U.S. branch. After the move, the husband’s behavior toward his wife and their children became increasingly controlling and emotionally and physically abusive. The client realized that she and the children’s well-being was at risk, but with no family or friends to support her in the U.S., she had no idea what steps to take or where to turn for help.
Whether you are thinking about divorce or facing a divorce that your spouse has started, your situation in an unfamiliar country is likely more complex than for by someone who has lived here most or all of his or her life. Here are some suggestions to get you prepared:
- Create a support network. If your spouse works for an international organization such as the World Bank or the IMF, there is a designated office within the organization whose mission is to help the spouses of their employees. They will keep the information they learn from you confidential, so don’t be afraid that your contact will get back to your spouse.
If your children attend U.S. schools, reach out to a parent in one of your children’s classes. The school counselor may be another resource for information and referrals. Your neighbors are also possible sources of support. Explain your situation, you may be surprised how much others want to help someone in genuine need.
- Use your support network to help you identify a skilled family law attorney who has experience with cross-cultural divorces. Interview two or three lawyers with expertise in cross-cultural divorces before you make your choice. Look for an attorney who conveys an understanding of your unique situation and whose advice makes sense to you.
- Educate yourself. With the assistance of your attorney and members of your support network, identify resources to become informed about the U.S legal system, the legal framework for resolving the issues in your divorce, and the process choices open to you in addressing your issues (negotiation, Collaborative Law, mediation or litigation, when necessary). These resources include written materials, workshops or seminars put on for groups, and videos about divorce topics.
The fact that you are far away from your family and roots and are in an unfamiliar culture need not mean that you are helpless. Develop a plan. Identify resources and professionals to assist you. Then, systematically work your way through the steps of your plan, modifying it as you obtain new information. And remember that just because your spouse may have financial and cultural advantages doesn’t mean that the U.S. judicial system will not protect your interests.