Failure to confirm divorce granted abroad might delay remarriage in Finland
Divorces granted to Finnish citizens abroad require validation by the Helsinki Court of Appeals
Finns are increasingly often getting married abroad, but if the marriage ends in a divorce, they often fail to have their divorce validated by the Helsinki Court of Appeals.
In order to be valid in Finland, divorces granted to Finnish nationals outside the European Union as well as those granted in another EU country prior to March 1st 2001 must be confirmed by the Helsinki Court of Appeals. Divorce decisions given in the Nordic countries and in the EU countries as of March 1st 2001 can be registered without validation.
”We receive notifications of terribly old divorces, sometimes dating back to as far as the 1970s. Occasionally people wake up to reality very late, wanting to have the validity of their divorce confirmed for reasons related to family law”, says notary Henri Ihalmo from the Helsinki Court of Appeals.
The confirmation is not mandatory, but without it, the person in question is still married in the eyes of Finnish law.
Failure to have a divorce decision validated can prevent the divorced person from remarrying in Finland, and has implications for the partition of inheritance.
According to Urpo Kangas, professor of family law, many summer weddings have had to be postponed, as the lack of a certificate indicating the validity of the divorce usually comes out during an investigation that is carried out prior to each wedding in order to ensure that there is no legal impediment to the marriage.
”Young people may get married while they are exchange students, and when they divorce abroad, they are handed a formal document to that effect. Many years later, when they need a certificate of non-impediment, it is noticed that the divorce is not valid in Finland”, Kangas notes.
It came as a surprise to Riikka Despontin, who lives in Brazil, that the divorce she had been granted in Brazil was not confirmed in Finland at the same time as the custody of her children was registered.
”When my second husband and I started to plan our wedding, I phoned the local register office, asking what documents I should submit to them. Surprise, surprise, they informed me that I was still officially married”, Despontin reports.
Kangas points out that people cannot get a divorce just anywhere they like. For example, on a holiday in Thailand, foreigners do not have a “legally significant” connection to that state. For this reason, a Thai court does not have the jurisdiction to grant a divorce.
The Helsinki Court of Appeals has also confirmed divorces applied for by estates of deceased persons.
”In practice, heirs can apply for a confirmation of the fact that the deceased had been granted a divorce. However, they may be faced with the problem that the divorce cannot be confirmed”, Kangas notes.
Nobody knows the precise number of marriages Finnish nationals have entered into or that of divorces they have got while residing abroad.
Those concerned should submit information about their marriage and divorce to the local register office of the municipality where they were most recently resident in Finland, or to the nearest Finnish Embassy or Consulate in their current country of residence, which will forward the information to the relevant authorities in Finland.
In 2011, the Finnish Embassies or Consulates worldwide notified the Finnish register offices of more than 1,300 marriages entered into by Finnish nationals and of 260 divorces they had been granted.
”Many people think that the hospital notifies the relevant authorities of births, and that the church submits information of marriages, and that this happens internationally. It comes as a surprise to them that it is not necessarily possible to get information even from Sweden”, says Information Services Manager Timo Salovaara from the Population Register Centre.
In the past ten years, the Helsinki Court of Appeals has confirmed slightly fewer than 1,000 divorces granted to Finnish nationals abroad. Divorces granted in 20 to 30 different countries have been validated in Helsinki on an annual basis.
The international distribution of Finnish citizens’ marriages and divorces is wide; since 2000, divorces confirmed in Finland have been granted in almost 80 countries.
Applications for the validation of foreign divorces granted to Finnish nationals in the EU countries prior to March 2001 continue to be submitted particularly from Germany. Most of the applicants are women.
Local Register Offices
Population Register Centre