It’s an oft quoted statistic. In the Czech Republic around 50% of marriages end in divorce. Sadly, some Czech/expat marriages join these ranks. Of course, when possible it is worth seeking advice to save the marriage. However, if all options are exhausted and divorce is the only one on the table, it helps to know what to expect from the law, the courts, and the inescapable bureaucracy.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of divorce here: no-fault, which can take 3–5 months and at-fault which can involve a much longer court case. We contacted AK Mališ Nevrkla Legal, and their spokesperson Karollína Brosková shed some light on these terms.
For a no-fault divorce to be granted, the couple must satisfy the following conditions:
(i) They have been married at least a year,
(ii) They have lived apart for at least 6 months,
(iii) They wants to file a joint divorce petition or one of the spouses is willing to join the petition of the partner who initiated the divorce, and
(iv) The spouses can agree on custody and the division of property.
If these conditions are not met, spouses should prepare for a lengthier case
“A legal separation of unhappy couple is just one ‘brick in the wall’; unfortunately, there are lots of related issues that need to be solved and that the couple is usually not aware of, e.g. custody over the children and visitation rights, child and spousal alimony and settlement of the joint marital estate,” said Ms. Brosková.
When a no-fault divorce is not possible, AK Mališ Nevrkla Legal advises their clients to make copies of all the necessary documents: marriage certificates, children’s birth certificates, purchase agreements on real estate, mortgage contracts and life insurance agreements.
One of the peculiarities of Czech law is that all divorces are treated as a civil suit with a plaintiff and a defendant, even when both spouses sign the divorce petition. The plaintiff is required to pay a 2,000 CZK court fee. However, in the case of no-fault both spouses split the costs. The divorce will be conducted at the district court located in the district (okres) where the couple were last legally residing or in the court in the district of the defending spouse.
Courts will also not grant divorces if they do not think it is in the interest of the children who are minors at the time.
Custody and alimony concerns
During the divorce proceedings, the court will decide whether one or both of the parents will have legal custody – in other words who will be the child’s legally responsible guardian. According to figures provided by the Ministry of Justice, of the custody decisions made by courts from 2010 to 2012, around 89–90% granted custody to the mother; 6% to the father and between 4 and 5% awarded joint custody. This is quite or a little higher than the US where a recent estimate places sole custody of the mother at between 68 and 88% of cases.
“It is true that the court grants joint custody rather exceptionally. However, it is important to realize that the institution of joint custody does not have to meet the interests of the parents, but the child’s or children’s interests,” said Štěpánka Čechová, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice.
Questions concerning visitation and the involvement of the parents in the child’s or children’s life is determined by the parents. However, it must be approved by the court and this approval is one of the conditions of an uncontested divorce.
The flipside of custody is the payment of alimony. The Ministry of Justice compiled this table (in Czech) in 2010 to act as a guide to decisions concerning alimony. Ms. Čechová explained that the table was purely “orientational in nature”. It was in no way a final binding verdict in every court decision.
An expat divorcée speaks out
Daniel, a Brazilian living in the Czech Republic, spoke with us about his experience.
“She [his ex-wife] applied. I agreed. Straight away, I got a lawyer. She got a lawyer. Her lawyer sent my lawyer a letter. They scheduled a date [at the court]. We were there. They asked if we should proceed with the divorce and that was it,” he said.
He estimated the whole process took a couple of months. He believes this was the case because he relinquished his rights to their flat and car.
Daniel didn’t find the court treated him in a pleasant way and the post-divorce paperwork proved to be more of a hassle than the divorce itself.
“It was really messed up with all the papers. At first when they sent me the letter about the divorce they sent me the wrong letter,” he said. It was actually a letter of execution, which informed him a bailiff would be coming to seize his goods.
Further mistakes included the court sending Daniel notifications when they should have been sent to Daniel’s lawyer and the court appointing a a French speaking interpreter, even though Daniel’s first language is Portuguese.
The last administrative problem came when he had to announce his divorce. The court told him to go to the Civil Registry, locally known as matrika. However, because Daniel is not a Czech citizen, he had to inform the Ministry of Interior. A spokesperson from the Ministry iof Interior told us this can be done at any office of the Department of Asylum and Migration Policy. Interestingly, Daniel was told the Foreigners’ Police.
Residency implications for foreigners
This experience raises an important issue for foreigners because divorce, in certain circumstances, could affect your residency.
If you’re a permanent resident, you have nothing to worry about. Your residency doesn’t change. However, if you are the former spouse of an EU citizen, who is not a Czech citizen, the divorce could affect your residency.
The Foreigners’ Residency Act says that the temporary residency card is not terminated “If prior to commencing divorce proceedings the marriage in question had lasted for at least three years and during this marriage a family member of the citizen of the European Union had been in possession of residence permit for a period shorter than one year.”
We contacted Integrační Centrum Praha. The person we spoke to said the situation is a bit more complicated and recommended contacting them to arrange a time to speak with one of their lawyers free of charge. Their contact is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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