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The expat wife: ‘What every women needs to know before she marries a foreigner.’

I just knew I had to follow the smile in his golden eyes into the sunset. It involved jumping on a plane, while barely knowing the inner workings of his soul or where on Google’s map he lived. It involved a great deal of bravery, a trusting heart, money I wasn’t sure I had, faith the size of a mustard seed  and a spirit of adventure.

Now our summer frolicking has evolved into much more: It’s almost three years and one beautiful baby since I married the dirty blond German guy I met in my hometown in South Africa. Alas, the monotony of routine has taken over our once-upon-a-time thrilling romance.

Many women who marry foreign men are drawn to the exotic nature of the relationship; there is so much newness to discover about each other’s cultures etc. However, there is another kind of foreign element that many women do not prepare for, and that is the fact that at some point of the marital union foreign international law will greatly impact many areas of the relationship . First, there is enough administrative paper work to suck the adventure right out of a union, simply the choice of relocating to another country can be destructive… me I’ve been there. But if both of you are like-minded and determined, you can see this as part of the adventure. For many, however, the adventure is short-lived and ends in divorce. It can be terrible if the divorce takes place in a foreign country.

I spoke to a few lawyers to gather a few tips for women wanting to marry foreigners. If you’re unsure about how your two worlds will fit together, it makes sense to know what you are getting yourself into.

Learn about the various laws that will affect your legal status in various situations such as marriage, divorce, distribution of matrimonial property, death and the birth of a child. All of these are governed by laws and in some instances you may be familiar with them but in others you may need advice.

Become familiar with the marital and family laws of the country in which you wish to marry. It can be very complicated to get married in a country in which you are unsure of your legal rights. For example, when two people enter into marriage in South Africa, they automatically enter into a ‘community of property’ marital regime, where both parties share liabilities and assets. Couples have to sign a premarital agreement if they wish to choose another matrimonial assets regime. However, if you get married in Germany, couples automatically assume the separation of assets and liabilities regime, unless otherwise agreed to by both parties. In the case of a marriage being terminated, if there is no premarital agreement, the laws in the country where the marriage took place governs how the divorce will take place.

In the case of a divorce where a couple have no joint place of residence and are constantly traveling, a court will look at the country which both parties regard as home. If a couple married in Russia when they were students, but then moved to Germany which they regard as their home, then German law will apply.

In some instances, it can get really tricky if a spouse’s country does not have a statutory or formal matrimonial property law. This can leave women at a serious disadvantage. In some patriarchal societies, a husband’s nationality will govern the marital regime by law.  The wife’s nationality might not even considered. In certain countries, only men are allowed to own property even if women helped to buy it.

There are countless happy stories of couples who have moved mountains to be with those they love. These are truly inspirational stories. Nobody wants to enter into a marriage thinking about divorce, but it is really useful to know the legal consequences of marrying a foreigner and it would be wise to enter into a premarital contract where you agree on a marital regime, so that if you find yourself in a complex and scary situation of not knowing which laws apply, you can rely on the prenup.

Author: Sarona Wolter

Editor: Anne Thomas



20.06.2017 | 10:44