Many times, I find that when clients come to me to investigate the possibility of divorce, their goals, and how divorce happens legally, usually these potential clients misunderstand several things.  I would like to address a few of these things in a series of articles.

First, many clients simply do not understand that a marriage made anywhere is a marriage made EVERYWHERE.  Many of my clients who have been married in another country, like Mexico or Guatemala, assume that their marriage is therefore NOT VALID in the United States.  This is simply not true.

It is important to point out that there are laws that govern multiple countries.  This kind of law is called “international law.”  It is made by agreements between countries called “treaties,” it is made by the normal practices of nations of the world, and it is made by the most respected decisions of the highest courts in the nations of the world.  

One principle or custom of international law is the principle of “comity.”  This legal principle of “comity” is when one nation respects or recognizes and enforces the legislative, judicial, or executive acts of another nation, based on international law and convenience and efficiency.  Nations like the United States, in other words, respect many—but not all—of the governmental acts of other nations.

In return, the United States therefore expects that many—though of course not all—of its own government actions will be respected in other countries.

Therefore, the United States respects marriages that are made in Mexico or anywhere else in Latin America, and those countries all respect marriages that are made in the United States.

Why is this important?  It is important because most countries with a Christian tradition underneath their laws have made it illegal to be married to two people at the same time.  For example, I have had clients many times come to me for help with immigration cases, and they want to get married to either help someone obtain immigration status in the US or they want to receive the benefit of immigration status from the person whom they want to marry.  

In these situations, I will always ask “how many times have you been married?”  When my clients say they have been married before, I will then ask “ok, well did you get a divorce from your first husband or wife?”  I have heard them say many times “no, but I got married to my first wife (or husband) in Mexico.”  What they mean by this is “my first marriage doesn’t count because I didn’t get married in the US.”  As I explained above, this is completely incorrect, and could cause many problems.  

For example, if a person gets married a second time without getting divorced from the first person, he or she could lose any immigration benefits he or she receives in the US, and could have very large problems receiving them again.

Thanks for reading!