Dealing with immigration and divorce in the United States

South Florida is a vibrant international community and part of what makes our area so wonderful is the diversity. People come here with hope, purpose and vision, be it economic, political or reconnecting with family. However, it’s pretty safe to say that few come here with a vision of divorce.

Married 15 years in their native country, Carmen and Jacinto enjoyed a very good life with their two-year-old daughter. In 2000, Jacinto, a successful entrepreneur, found an investment opportunity in Miami and acquired a South Florida-based business. The business required Jacinto’s full commitment, so he moved to Miami.

Shortly thereafter, in 2001, Carmen and their daughter followed.

Fast forward 13 years, the business is big success and the couple has two more children. Everything looks great, except for their marriage. While both Carmen and Jacinto agree that a divorce is the best alternative, they are apprehensive about filing for one.

With assets in their native county and in Miami and a marriage that took place in Venezuela, they are concerned as to how to proceed.

Like Carmen and Jacinto, many South Florida residents face this situation. But how is this situation handled? Can the divorce be filed in Miami? What about the assets here and in Venezuela? Which law applies and how?

“At our firm, we see many of these cases in any given year,” says Paul Leinoff, a board certified family lawyer and partner with the firm of Leinoff and Lemos. “One of the complexities is figuring out an effective way to divide and distribute assets and businesses that are in a foreign country and outside the Florida court’s jurisdiction. The goal would be to acquire as many assets located within the Florida court’s jurisdiction for a client, because often there is no telling what the foreign court may do.”

The simple answer is yes, Carmen and Jacinto can get divorced in Miami. Since at least one of parties has lived in Miami for more than six continuous months, the local court has what is termed “subject matter jurisdiction.” So, assuming a legal marriage took place in their native Venezuela, the local court can rule as in any family court case provided the local court also has personal jurisdiction over the parties on the matters of alimony, child support, custody, visitation and equitable distribution. The only catch is what happens in Venezuela.

“The South Florida court can identify foreign assets,” says Leinoff. “The court can even value and distribute those assets, but the court has no jurisdiction to enforce the distribution of those assets.”

A further complication in such cases is that the U.S. divorce decree may not be recognized in the foreign country. This means that while the couple is legally divorced in the US, they may very well still be married in their native country. And any equitable distribution of foreign assets may likely have to take place in the native country, even if a final judgment is entered in Florida.

Obviously these are complicated situations. This being the case, Carmen and Jacinto would be well served to retain a law firm specialized in such matters, both here and in the foreign country.

As is life, misguided and uninformed decisions always cost money in a divorce.

Carlos Blanco founded Matters of Divorce to provide answers, referrals and support to people considering divorce or who recently have been divorced. He may be contacted by calling 305-908-1171 or sending email to

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