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Married in a Different Country: How Do I Divorce in the U.S.?

Whether you and your partner married overseas in a destination wedding or unexpectedly eloped while traveling, the rules of divorce aren’t too different for those who get married in another country.

Marriage is a state issue, not a federal, so the laws governing divorce vary by where you live within the U.S. Still, states will allow you to dissolve a foreign marriage here somewhat easily. There are two catches.

  • First, your marriage must be valid in whatever country it occurred.
  • Second, you must qualify under your state’s basic residency requirements.

In North Carolina, that means you must live here for six months before filing for divorce (and must separate for one year). Assuming both those things are true, here is what you need to know to split legally.

Just as with any divorce, it’s best to start with an attorney, especially if you and your partner must settle property division and child custody. However, if you are not working with an attorney, you can start with your clerk of court office. Your county clerk of court can give you a petition for divorce form along with instructions on how to complete it.

The form will ask information about your wedding, where it occurred, and on what date. You will also indicate child custody and property agreements. If you have it, attach a copy of your foreign marriage license or similar documentation. You may need to get a licensed translator to prepare a version in English, depending on your state’s requirements.

You and your partner with both sign, unless you do not agree to divorce, in which case you will also fill out paperwork for the summons. You must serve legal notice of the divorce proceedings to your spouse’s current address, whether he/she lives here or overseas.

Once you file paperwork, the court will send the summons to your partner, who can then sign and return the documentation. You will have to check with the country where you were married about whether you need to file divorce paperwork there.

This process sounds relatively simple, and it can be if done this way. However, most couples need a bit more help with a divorce. Visit our workshop each month to ask an attorney, a financial adviser, and a therapist about your situation.


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