Going through this divorce process has really taught my so much about international law- so much so that I'm even telling my own lawyer the intricacies of international law ( ok, maybe I should think about getting another lawyer?) Just joking, she's actually really good and is really fighting for me to get back to the US.
But along this journey, I've realized that so many expat women get really stuck because they don't know what to plan for, or are so in love that they don't realize the seriousness of being under the law of a country that is not your own.
The only way I have been able to support my daughter and me, and was able to stay with my friends this long is that I knew what I had to do to protect myself in the case of an emergency...and the emergency happened so I'm so glad that I made my plans.
Here's the list of things that have saved me, and will probably help me to go back to the US with my daughter, so if you are in a similar situation do this NOW!
Tips For The Expat Woman Going Through an International Divorce
1. First of all, I would advise you to NOT have a baby in another country.
But if you do, make sure that your husband signs for all of the documents for your own country.
If anything happens (like separation or divorce) you can be sure he will never sign and you will truly be stuck. My ex signed for my daughter's passport soon after she was born (I'm sure today he would never do that!) and without that, I would have never gotten it.
2. Be careful of all documents you sign for your children in foreign countries.
For example, my ex currently really wants me to sign to get a French ID for my daughter. But when I asked at the mayor's office, they told me kids only need IDs if they travel. So... why would he be asking for an ID if he weren't planning to travel somewhere with my daughter?
3. Know the laws of the country you live in.
Here in France, any French citizen can travel in the EU with only their IDs, meaning my ex and my daughter could travel- if he had her ID- and I would have a very hard time finding her if he decided to take off and not tell me. And its valid for 15 years! Be careful!
4. LEARN THE LANGUAGE!!!
I can't stress this enough. I have to speak with my lawyer in French, the judge in French... I have to understand complicated legal French. Learn. The. Language. Even if people say they speak English, they are not native speakers and there are things they can't express correctly. And even though they allow translators in the courtroom, it's seen as a disadvantage to have one.
5. Mimic the culture.
What do I mean by this? Well, I can't just walk into my lawyer's office or the judge's chambers and act like an American. Not there is anything wrong with the way we act! But I have to understand them culturally, and I have to understand that to them I'm a foreigner, and if I want them to understand me I have to speak to them through their culture and language. This is crucial. Put their culture ahead of yours and you will always win.
6. Open your own bank account.
The only way that I'm able to access French Aid and prove that I'm independently taking care of my daughter is that I have my own bank account. There is also an assumption that foreign women don't work and are supported by their husbands, so again, if you work and are independent, you have a much better chance of surviving a divorce situation.
7. Build a strong expat network
My friends have given me clothes for my daughter, driven us to appointments around the city, babysat my daughter while I met with my lawyer. When I first came here I made sure to network and join local associations. Through this, I have built strong friendships that have allowed me to leave an abusive marriage.
8. Exhaust all of the free resources you can. Ask for help
There are so many free resources that you can find, and government associations that will help you. You are the parent of one of their citizens, they HAVE to help you even if you are a foreigner. Don't be afraid to ask and bother people to get them to help you.
9. Don't be afraid to leave everything behind.
I was the youngest professor in my department, had a good salary by French standards, got my daughter a place in French creche which is SUPER hard, and we had just moved to a beautiful new apartment in March. But I left it. I realized those are all material things, I can get those back. But I can't get my dignity back. Leave it all and get your life back.