How to end a marriage without the trip to Guam
Stars and Stripes December 17, 2006
GINOWAN, Okinawa — If your spouse wants out of the marriage as badly as you — and you both agree on things like child custody and division of property — then there’s no reason to go to Guam for a quick divorce.
Unless you’re also going for the sun and sand, jokes Annette Eddie-Callagain, an American civilian attorney on Okinawa.
“If you’re married to a Japanese (citizen) it’s essentially a free divorce. You just go to the city hall and fill out the paperwork,” she said. “If it’s two Americans they can still do it here, however they have to go through Family Court.”
She said a typical uncontested divorce between two Americans on Okinawa generally takes six to eight weeks.
“I refer anyone wanting to go that route to a Japanese attorney,” she said. “It costs about $1,000 to do it all — translations and everything.”
According to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, foreign nationals seeking a divorce in Japan must show that they are able to be divorced in their home country and that the procedures used in Japan are compatible. Eddie-Callagain, formerly an Air Force attorney, said she refers about four to six couples per month to a Japanese associate.
“Just like two Americans can get married here, they can get divorced here,” she said. “But both need to be here on Okinawa.”
Eddie-Callagain said she often sees the ugly flip side of the “quickie” Guam divorces.
“I get women coming in here confused about what’s happened to them, that their husband’s just come back from Guam with papers for them to sign,” she said. “So, they come to me to have a lawyer review it for them.”
To get an uncontested divorce in a Japanese Family Court, the couple must attend at least one joint hearing.
“But, if they’ve agreed to everything, that’s pretty painless,” she said. “And it sure sounds cheaper than going to Guam.”
In South Korea, the situation is a bit different.
“What we would do for a divorce client, even in uncontested cases, depends too much on the client’s individual circumstances to make any general statement,” David Oten, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Korea, said in response to a query from Stars and Stripes. USFK declined a request from Stripes to interview a military attorney.
The Web site for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul does not contain specific information about obtaining uncontested divorces in South Korea, stating only: “Consular officers are prohibited by law from advising citizens on particular legal matters.”
However, the U.S. State Department’s Web site advises that: “A divorce decree issued in a foreign country generally is recognized in a state in the United States … provided both parties to the divorce received adequate notice, i.e., service of process and, generally, provided one of the parties was a domiciliary in the foreign nation at the time of the divorce.”