Annexation and marital status: why you should not file for divorce and marriage in Crimea - ForumDaily
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Annexation and family status: why you shouldn’t formalize divorce or marriage in Crimea

Lately my office has received numerous inquiries concerning divorce procedures in Crimea, so I’ve decided to shed some light on the situation through this column. Not everyone is aware that divorces finalized in Crimea after March 26, 2014, are not recognized in the United States. This applies not only to divorces but also to marriages and other important decisions made by the judicial bodies and governmental authorities. However, today, let’s focus on the topics of marriage and divorce.

Photo: IStock

In accordance with Article 158 of the Family Code of the Russian Federation, marriages contracted outside the territory of the Russian Federation are legally recognized in Russia. Article 160 of the Family Code of the Russian Federation establishes a similar rule for divorces.

Similar requirements exist in every jurisdiction, i.e. marriages and divorces conducted in one country are typically recognized by another country if they are executed in accordance with the legislation of the respective foreign state.

The issue stems from the fact that Ukraine does not acknowledge the actions of Russian authorities in Crimea. This is established by Ukrainian Law No. 1207-VII, dated April 15, 2014, titled “On Ensuring Rights and Freedoms for Citizens within the Legal Framework on the Temporarily Occupied Territory of Ukraine.” Consequently, these actions are also not recognized by the United States authorities.

What Can Be Done

If you’ve entered into marriage in Crimea and plan to move abroad, you will need to register your marriage again, as most countries do not acknowledge marriages contracted in Crimea.

The same applies to divorces. If you’ve decided to get divorced in Crimea, be aware that it won’t be recognized abroad. This implies the following:

  1. In most countries outside the Russian Federation, you will be regarded as legally married.
  2. In the event of your death, your spouse, from whom you obtained a divorce in Crimea, can lay claim to inheritance as your lawful spouse.
  3. They have the right to divide the personal assets you acquired after the divorce in Crimea.
  4. Your subsequent marriage will be deemed invalid as it was entered into while the previous one was still in effect.
  5. If you choose to live abroad, enter into a new marriage, and obtain immigration status through marriage, up to obtaining citizenship, all of it could fall apart in a single day when it is discovered that your previous marriage was not properly dissolved, rendering your current status invalid.

All of this is very serious, and in the nine years since the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, I have encountered various situations, some with positive outcomes, and others with unfortunate ones. If, after reading this article, you come to understand that your divorce is considered illegitimate under international law, do not try to conceal it. Remember, sooner or later, this fact will come to light, becoming public knowledge. Delaying this moment will only aggravate the problem.

A few instructive stories

Vasiliy dissolved his marriage in Crimea and moved to the United States in search of a better life. He found it with Mary, a third-generation American, who fell in love with him and gladly agreed to marry him. After registering their marriage, Vasiliy sought the assistance of an immigration lawyer to change his status. The lawyer rejected his documents, explaining that the dissolution of a marriage contract made in Crimea after Crimea had been annexed by Russia is not recognized as legitimate in the US.

In this scenario, Vasiliy should’ve initiated the divorce process anew. While living in the US, he had the option to choose the jurisdiction and finalize the divorce either in Ukraine, where his wife was residing or in the US, where he lived. Then, he could proceed to enter into a legitimate marriage with Mary. Only then he should have applied for a change of status.

However, Vasiliy decided that adhering to all these bureaucratic requirements was an unnecessary formality. Eager to enter into marriage and obtain a green card, he chose not to waste time. Having at his disposal a decision on the marriage dissolution and determination of his child’s place of residence, made by the Kyivskyi district court of the city of Simferopol in the so-called ‘Crimean Republic,’ along with a divorce certificate issued by the Kyivskyi department of the registry office in Simferopol, he decided to forge translations of these documents.

“This isn’t a forgery,” he reasoned. “I just removed the unnecessary words from the translation.”

These unnecessary words included the phrase “the city of Simferopol in the Crimean Republic,” which was reduced to “Kyivskyi district court” and “Kyivskyi department of the registry office.” Consequently, he was approved by USCIS for a change in status and other immigration procedures, eventually leading to citizenship. He lived the rest of his life in blissful ignorance, and his deception remained undiscovered. After he passed away, the situation took a turn. In Ukraine, his first wife, whom he considered his ex-wife, didn’t share the same sentiment. Both women – the American and the Ukrainian wives – asserted their claims to inheritance. In the end, everything he had acquired during his marriage with the American woman he loved ended up with his first legally recognized wife.

Karina Duval. Photos from the personal archive

In another intriguing case, a woman residing in Moscow, a Russian citizen, approached me. Her husband, also a Russian citizen, was registered in Moscow. According to the usual jurisdictional rules, she filed for divorce with the magistrate in Moscow. But her husband submitted a request to transfer the case to another court in a different jurisdiction, arguing that despite his Moscow registration, he permanently resided in Crimea. As general jurisdiction rules dictate the place of case consideration based on the defendant’s place of residence, he requested the transfer to the court in Simferopol. The court granted the petition. Consequently, if the case is indeed transferred to Simferopol, the couple faces the risk of remaining married, as divorces executed in annexed Crimea aren’t recognized outside of Russia.

The woman approached me to appeal the court decision. However, the window for filing a personal complaint about the court’s determination was just 15 days. What can you do if, unknowingly, you missed the deadline? Or, if you filed a complaint on the court decision, but lost the appeal? If you have no plans for international ties, you may choose to do nothing. Within the territory of the Russian Federation, your divorce will be considered legitimate. You can remarry without the risk that, in the event of a subsequent divorce, your former spouse will claim a significant share of your assets.

However, if you envision a life outside Russia, entertain the possibility of immigration, or consider marrying a foreigner, then obtaining a divorce in Crimea is not advisable. In this scenario, you should formalize the divorce in a jurisdiction, whose decisions are recognized outside the country. In any case, Ukraine serves as such a jurisdiction, although sometimes there is a choice, especially if one of the spouses resides in another country.

For instance, several years ago, I handled a case involving a husband who was a citizen and resident of Mexico, while his wife lived in Crimea and held Russian and Ukrainian passports. They had married in the United States. She filed for divorce in Crimea, and their marriage was dissolved. However, in violation of the defendant’s rights, he wasn’t notified of the hearing. The husband was unaware that his wife was seeking a divorce. It was only when he proposed the idea of divorce that she happily revealed their marriage had already been dissolved, triumphantly sending him a copy of the court decision.

The client approached me to appeal the court decision. In any other situation, I would have done exactly that, considering that there were sufficient grounds for the decision to be overturned. In this case, appealing the court decision would be useless as it wouldn’t be accepted in any form in Mexico or the US. Therefore, I suggested to the client to obtain a divorce anew in the Ukrainian court in accordance with Ukrainian legislation. First, I obtained the marriage certificate with an apostille from the US. Providing the court with the original marriage certificate is a prerequisite for initiating divorce case proceedings. A divorce cannot be obtained with just a copy, and it is also impossible to obtain a divorce with only the original US marriage certificate without the apostille. The documents presented to the court must conform to the form and content requirements of the law. Next, we contacted the Desnyanskyi court in Kyiv, and after the case was accepted, we notified the defendant about the hearing. Proper defendant notification is crucial in any civil process, and in international law, this procedure determines whether the divorce will be recognized by another jurisdiction. If the divorce is not acknowledged in another country, your future life might take an entirely different turn. Eventually, we obtained a legitimate court decision.

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Many people, including professional lawyers, tend to underestimate divorce cases. They say that such cases are impossible to lose, and one can get a divorce without a lawyer. At the beginning of my career, I shared this view until divorce cases became my primary specialty. The importance of family status cannot be underestimated. Marriage is more than just an idyllic picture. Marriage, regardless of a couple’s enduring love, is a temporary phenomenon. Even the happiest marriages will eventually come to an end. Marriages end through two means: the death of one of the spouses or through divorce. Divorce usually involves property division, while death leads to inheritance. Properly handling a divorce in a legitimate jurisdiction in a timely manner can help save your assets and pass them on to your children and those whom you genuinely care about.

Material prepared in partnership with

Karina Duval - lawyer, notary, expert in international law

Russian registration: #78/857
NYS registration: 4775086
Notary public, registration: 02DU6376542

tel: + 7 (921) 946-0582 (in Russia) / + 1 (718) 704-8558 (in USA)

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