Q. My Wife and I are both US citizens. When we first got married, we lived in Massachusetts. We still own our home but have been renting it out for the last 7 years. Most of our bank accounts and retirement assets are still in Massachusetts. I got a job transfer to Denmark 7 years ago and we have been living here ever since. Our third child was born in Denmark 5 years ago.
My wife recently asked for a divorce. I am concerned about what happens to our Massachusetts assets if we file in Denmark. Do we have to get divorced in both places? Should we file in Massachusetts? We don’t own anything in Denmark and just have small operational bank accounts.
Neither one of us wants to return to Massachusetts now but I would if I had to.
A. Even if you were to return to Massachusetts tomorrow, you would have to wait a year to file for divorce. Because you have been in Denmark for so long, jurisdiction is in Denmark. Frankly on the facts as you state them you cannot even argue that the marriage became broken in Massachusetts thus waiving the one year waiting requirement. Surely your marriage was not broken before you left seven years ago if you have a 5 year old. And, you cannot get on a plane, land in Massachusetts and declare your marriage to be broken since your wife has already asked for a divorce.
But, that really is not bad news for you. If you and your wife proceed with a divorce in Denmark, so long as both of you participate in the process, the court there can enter a judgment which divides your Massachusetts based property. You need to consult counsel in Denmark to determine how things would be divided. In Massachusetts, without a pre-nuptial agreement, in a mid-to long-term marriage where three children were born, you can expect assets will be divided approximately equally. There are some exceptions for example if some assets were inherited, a judge might split them unequally.
If you get a judgment in Denmark and your wife does not want to abide by it, you can file papers to register and enforce your order in Massachusetts. So, for example, if the court orders your real estate sold and she refuses to cooperate, the court here can order her to sign papers or appoint a special master for the purpose of selling the property and distributing the funds in accordance with the Danish judgment. Of course your wife is entitled to similar enforcement measures against you.
Now that you know you can proceed in Denmark, try to reach an agreement on all issues there to remain on good terms with your soon-to-be-ex-wife. In that way the two of you can save for your own children’s college educations rather than contributing to the future tuition costs for your lawyers’ children.