What happens when love in a foreign country goes wrong? At first he was a romantic stranger with sultry accent that made you go weak at the knees. You were a young, successful career woman ,ready to be seduced just like any “femme fatale’ should be. Oh this is so like the movies. Your friends all envious at your international jetset lifestyle, flipping between countries just to sneak a few passionate moments with your beau. Flowers. Chocolates. Life’s a peach!
The proposal was so romantic that how could you say no? Well you didn’t. Infact, so high on love, you not only accepted to become Madame Maintenant but you also agreed to set up home in his wonderful country. You take him at his word when he promises to treasure you forever.
So what happened next?
Enter: Domestic chores
Sadly, gone are all your friends, bored of tales of your seemingly perfect continental lifestyle. ….and that once sultry accent of Monsieur soon turns to persistent, harsh criticism. After years of coping with a hot headed rude latino, you finally admit to yourself that you were wrong. You miss your friends, you miss your family and you miss just being able to chat comfortably in your own language – YOU MISS HOME!
You toy with the idea of divorce and consult an international divorce lawyer who explains that the only way that you can legally take your child out of the jurisdiction is by a national court order or written permission of the father. Any adult can travel freely through out Europe but this does not apply to child. She goes on to say that she would be able to obtain this order from the judge and you should be able to go home. She charges extortionate rates but it’s the price you have to pay for freedom.
Here commences the INTERNATIONAL CUSTODY BATTLE.
It starts by you making a proposal to court in a foreign language whilst paying for all your English documents to be translated by an expensive court translator. Not to mention that your potential ex husband has stopped paying his wages into the joint account. You are now in a position where the usual state of play sees the wife, who is normally the primary caregiver of the children, financially deprived by the ex husband in an attempt to bring her to her knees. It takes a national court order to fix alimony and maintenance pending the divorce procedure. The waiting time for a court hearing could be months and therefore the wife is left many months struggling to pay for legal fees, mortgage and feed her children without any court ordered spousal support.
It must also be noted that spousal support is dependent on proving your ex husbands current income. Many scorned husbands go to extreme lengths to prevent the wife from obtaining the necessary proof of income that the court needs. You have to do all this in a foreign language. You now start to realize the complexities of the foreign divorce minefield. It’s not like English Law. It’s very different. You try to research ‘liquidation matrimonale’ and ‘Ordonnance de non conciliation’ in French. What does it mean? It’s all greek!
After days of study, in between the normal every day chores, you realize that what you thought was to be a fairly simple divorce transaction could be dragged out for years – literally. And at what cost? And it’s too late now because you pressed the START button so hold on tight for the worst ride of your life.
Until this point you have been an innocent bystander, not comprehending what the possibility of losing custody of your child can actually mean. Cannot eat, you cannot sleep. You cannot talk about anything but custody. You are forced to contemplate if your child can survive, live or be happy without their Mum?
You have to face the fact – it is you who is the ethnic minority in a foreign court, disadvantaged by language and finances. And never underestimate the endless options that your ex husband will have regarding his choice of local reputable lawyers, while yours will probably be chosen by such criteria as - number 1 – can the lawyer speak English?
It is current Court practice in France to allow divorcing parents to have joint custody. The reality of this will mean that you will be forced to remain in that country until your children are of sufficient maturity to decide for themselves (often around 15 years of age) and you will only see your children 50% of the time. Also spousal support is not as generous on the continent as it is in England and so your financial situation will probably deteriorate.
THE INITIAL DIVORCE DECISION
So your evidence put forward at the Ordonnance de non conciliation was not viewed as strong enough to warrant you going home with your children. Instead the Family Judge gives you and your husband 50/50 parenting access in France. Disappointed, reality will hit as you resign yourself to being stuck in that rut for years. Your lawyer got it wrong. Tough, you still have to pay her bills.
But what happens if you were lucky…..the Family Judge realized that your ex husband was an absent father, pre occupied by his own business ‘affairs’, he had neglected the needs of his wife and child. He understood your plight and awards you a residency order. You can return with your child to your own country. You can go home! FANTASTIQUE!
Or is it?
Elated by the decision, you immediately return home and install your children in the English education system. You start your new life. Once again you find your happiness.
On the otherside of the channel, your ex husband, furious at the decision, proceeds with an immediate High Court appeal. The appeal system in france forces you to pay for both a barrister and solicitor however, it is only the solicitor that represents you in court. This procedure can last for a year or more and cost tens of thousands of pounds not to mention your sanity. You will be served the Appeal notice personally and you will soon learn that the decision given by the Family Judge was only temporary and can be changed on appeal and/or by the actual divorce decision – Assignation. Even the subsequent Assignation order can also result in appeal. The whole procedure can take more than 7 years to complete and all this time you and your child will never have the stability of knowing that you are permanently residence in England. During this time you will again face the possibility of losing custody in a foreign Appeal Court.
Everyone will sympathise but not many will truly understand the fear of knowing that at any point during this lengthy divorce your child can be taken away by a decision of a foreign court.
You are now in the middle of an INTERNATIONAL CUSTODY BATTLE. A Tug of Love case. C’est ta vie!
An international romantic story that did not have a happy ending - written for Wikivorce Magazine by Gillian Chandler