Divorce in Russia
The idea to write this post occurred to me when I was advising a friend of mine who was unfortunate enough to be going through a divorce in Russia . The friend is a foreigner with limited knowledge of the Russian language, so my advice (either on law or on language) was needed at every step. Observing how difficult it was for him to finalize this issue, I decided to write this article (which will be followed by articles on property division and child custody) that can serve as guidelines for those foreigners in Russia who believe that their marriage has come to an end, but for various reasons, cannot outsource all their legal troubles to a lawyer. Please bear in mind that this article is not legal consultation advice – just a simple overview of the procedure and specific advice should be sought if you are in doubt.
There are two types of divorce in Russia - administrative and judicial. Russian law allows "no fault" divorce proceedings with no requirements of legal and/or physical separation prior to a formal divorce decree. As a campaigner for womens’ rights, I am happy to say that Russian law forbids a husband from filing for divorce without his wife’s consent during pregnancy or the first year of a child’s life (even if the child was stillborn or has died).
1. Administrative divorce
Administrative divorce is simple and cheap; however, it can be used only if:
Both spouses agreed to divorce and they don’t have minor children, OR
A spouse was declared missing by a court, or incapacitated, or sentenced to three years or longer in jail.
If these conditions are met, the application to divorce is lodged with a Civil Acts Registration Office (and I will refer to this authority with its Russian acronym – “ZAGS”).
Step 1. Which ZAGS?
The application shall be lodged to the ZAGS which is located in the area where at least one spouse lives or where the marriage was registered. If you know the relevant address in the city of Moscow, follow the link to figure out which ZAGS to use. For addresses in the Moscow region please use this link.
Step 2. Which application?
In case two spouses’ agreement, the following form shall be filled in.
It is common practice that two spouses go together and sign the form in ZAGS. However, one spouse can send a separate application to ZAGS which shall be certified by the notary public. If a foreign spouse does not want to travel to Russia, you might want to consider notarizing your signature in this form in front of the notary public of your country, then getting the document apostilled, and sending it to a Russian translator. The translator shall then translate the form and certify the translation at the Russian notary. (Usually forms signed in front of a foreign notary public are accepted by a ZAGS officer; however, it is better to double-check with a respective ZAGS).
In case only one spouse applies for a divorce (if another was declared missing by a court, or incapacitated, or sentenced to three years jail time) the following form shall be filled in. Again, if you do not want to travel to Russia for this procedure, please consider taking the steps I mentioned above to allow the filing to be made in your absence.
Step 3. Supporting documents
Together with the form, you need to attach the following documents:
A document attesting that the registry fee was paid. Usually clients ask whether they can pay from abroad. Legally speaking, it is possible; however, clients of mine have tried on several occasions to pay a court fee from abroad and it did not work. Therefore, I suggest that you ask somebody in Russia to pay this fee (you will need to issue a power of attorney to this person though). Currently, the registry fee is 650 roubles (approximately 10 USD);
Passport (if you are sending a notarized application instead of appearing in person in ZAGS, it is better to include a notarized copy of your passport with translation to Russian language); and
Step 4. Receiving the certificate of divorce
Within one month after submitting the application ZAGS will issue a certificate of divorce which can be received by ex-spouses either in person or through a representative (again, the power of attorney will be necessary).
The certificate means that you are no longer married.
2. Judicial divorce
This one is more difficult and most probably will require a help of an attorney. However, if you are determined to try this yourself, read on.
Judicial divorce is usually where the couple have minor children, or if one of the partners does not want to grant a divorce. It is common for the court to decide custody issues, child and spousal support, alimony and common property division at the same time as reviewing a divorce application.
A Russian court will accept a divorce application if:
either husband or wife has a place of residence in Russia; OR
one of them is a Russian citizen; OR
the property of the respondent spouse is in Russia.
If you are a foreign citizen or resident, it might be possible to file for divorce in another country. If filed in another country, the application usually cannot be reviewed by Russian courts. Therefore, it is better to choose wisely the courts you use for your divorce.
Obvious advantages for getting a divorce in Russia include the quick and simple procedure and relatively undeveloped laws for maintenance payments for the ex-spouse. In other words, a person who earns more than their ex-spouse will (generally) not be required to make maintenance payments, unlike in many other jurisdictions. Therefore, a financially weaker spouse might want to file a divorce application elsewhere if they can afford to do so. Payments to support children will still be added by the Russian courts.
1. Which court?
If there is no dispute regarding children and the value of common property does not exceed 50 000 roubles, the application shall be submitted to a magistrate’s applicable to the respondent spouse’s place of residence. In order to choose the appropriate magistrate’s court, please follow the link.
In other cases, the application must be lodged with a federal court in accordance with the respondent spouse’s place of residence or the location of the spousal property. Follow this link to choose which federal court shall be seized.
2. What to write in the application?
Examples of applications can be found here. Basically, you need to state that irreconcilable differences, irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, or incompatibility make living together impossible. Again, you might want to write a claim in your language and then make a notarized translation in Russian. Another option is to issue a power of attorney to somebody who will sign the claim on your behalf.
If a spouse applies to the court may order a cooling-off period of up to 3 months, to see if differences can be resolved. If irreconcilable differences exist after this cooling-off period, the court will commence dissolving the marriage.
3. Which supporting documents shall be attached?
You need to attach the following documents:
Copy of the claim;
Financial documentation for property division;
Court fee (650 roubles); and
Copy of the claim for the respondent spouse.
4. What happens next?
After you receive a court decision granting a termination of your marriage, you need to wait one month until the decision becomes enforceable. Upon expiry of this period, if no appeal claim was lodged, you need to receive a copy of the decision in the court and apply to ZAGS for a divorce certificate with the following application.
Don't forget to attach the following documents:
Registration fee (which is equal to 650 roubles).
The divorce will be finalized after you receive the certificate. I’ve never heard of any foreigner without considerable knowledge of the Russian language receiving a judicial divorce without help from a Russian attorney. However, if you decide to go on your own, please contact me with an account of your experiences. I would highly appreciate your feedback.