Divorce law in Bulgaria and procedure of division of assets after an overseas divorce with a Bulgarian citizen are regulated by different applicable divorce laws such as Bulgarian Family Code, Bulgarian Civil Procedure Code, applicable EU Regulations and Private International Law Code. Appointing a Bulgarian divorce lawyer is recommended, even in divorces by mutual consent, with a view to speed up the process and avoid bureaucratic complications for both parties involved. The lawyer will collect and draft all necessary documentation, search for assets such as shareholding in companies, real estates, pay the state fees, obtain the divorce decree, etc. In procedures for divorce by mutual consent the parties file a joint application and that is why it is quite acceptable and popular both parties to be represented by one and the same lawyer. In such case they pay only one lawyer’s fee for representation. Sometimes, however, due to various reasons (for example in cases of big financial interests or simply due to fact that the appointed lawyer is of the opposite sex and thus suspected of sympathy to the other party) the spouses prefer to use their own lawyer and to pay a separate representation fee. The divorce procedure in Bulgaria starts by filing a divorce petition together with the original hard paper copy of the marriage certificate. If there are underaged children from the marriage, their birth certificates must be enclosed to the petition as well. In procedures for a divorce by mutual consent in Bulgaria it is mandatory a divorce agreement between the spouses to be made and signed by them. According to Bulgarian divorce laws, the agreement should contain some basics, but divorce lawyers usually offer the parties to include broader clauses and stipulations which will facilitate them significantly and avoid raise of additional issues even after the divorce.
Divorces involving spouses with different citizenship or residency are usually more complicated as apart from other issues here comes the question of applicable legal jurisdiction. To begin with, applicable laws and jurisdiction depend on whether the spouses are EU citizens or not. Presently 16 European Union member state countries use common divorce law rules set by Council Regulation (EU) No 1259/2010 of 20 December 2010 implementing enhanced cooperation in the area of the law applicable to divorce and legal separation, also known as Rome III Regulation, and Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 of 27 November 2003 concerning jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility. Actually, the 1259/2010 Regulation determines the applicable law while 2201/2003 Regulation determines the applicable jurisdiction, therefore it is practically possible under some combination of circumstances, the competent court according to one of the regulations to differ from the applicable law according to the other. According to Regulation 2201/2003, the competent court to hear a divorce case between EU citizens can be either:
a) in the member-state where:
– spouses are habitually resident, or
– spouses were last habitually resident, if one of them still resides there, or
– the respondent is habitually resident, or
– in the event of a joint application where either of the spouses is habitually resident, or
– the applicant is habitually resident if he or she resided there for at least a year immediately before the application was made, or
– the applicant is habitually resident if he or she resided there for at least six months immediately before the application was made and is either a national of the Member State in question or, in the case of the United Kingdom and Ireland, has his or her “domicile” there;
(b) of the nationality of both spouses or, in the case of the United Kingdom and Ireland, of the “domicile” of both spouses.
The above requirements are alternative, e.g. any court that meets any of the above listed conditions shall be competent to rule on the divorce application. It is clear from the items above that in cases of divorce by mutual consent (joint divorce application) it is enough only one of the spouses to be habitually resident in a member state to apply for a divorce in this country. On the other hand, Regulation 1259/2010 allows the parties to choose applicable law for their divorce procedure. It can be any of the following:
- the law of the State where the spouses are habitually resident at the time the agreement is concluded; or
- the law of the State where the spouses were last habitually resident, in so far as one of them still resides there at the time the agreement is concluded; or
- the law of the State of nationality of either spouse at the time the agreement is concluded; or
- the law of the approached court.
The parties are entitled to designate any of the above listed laws to be applicable. In case of absence of a choice on the applicable law agreed by the parties, however, divorce shall be subject to the law of the member state:
- where the spouses are habitually resident at the time the court is seized; or, failing that
- where the spouses were last habitually resident, provided that the period of residence did not end more than 1 year before the court was seized, in so far as one of the spouses still resides in that State at the time the court is seized; or, failing that
- of which both spouses are nationals at the time the court is seized; or, failing that
- where the court is seized.
In cases when one of the spouses is a foreigner, non-EU citizen, a joint application for a divorce by mutual consent can be filed with Bulgarian court if the other spouse is a Bulgarian citizen or if any of the spouses is habitually resident in Bulgaria. In these cases, apart from divorce laws in Bulgaria, the rules of Private International Law Code are applicable. In cases when one of the applicants is a Bulgarian citizen and Bulgarian courts are competent, the applicable law (unless they have chosen applicable law beforehand) is the law of the country of their common habitual residency at the moment of seizing the court. If the spouses do not have common habitat, Bulgarian divorce law is applicable.
If the Bulgarian courts are considered competent to hear a divorce case, the issue of division of assets and settlement of property relations between the spouses should also be arranged by the same court. The major principle here is that the divorce settlement of assets between spouses of different citizenship is arranged by the law of the country where both parties are habitually resident. If they live in different countries and there isn’t such common habitat they can chose the applicable legislation themselves but only if this is possible in the country competent to arrange the division of assets.
When there is lack of mutual consent for divorce in Bulgaria any of the spouse can file a petition for initiating a divorce suit due to irretrievable breakdown of marriage. In that case the court examines closely the reason for the divorce and judges on the guilt, while in a divorce by mutual consent the court only approves the agreement made by the parties beforehand and ensures that it does not contradict the law. It is also possible the petitioner to request explicitly that the court does not judge on the reason for the divorce and the question of guilt (in case spouses do not wish to indulge into long court disputes), and if within the law suit the parties reach an agreement they can divorce by mutual consent.
Bulgarian court practice allows the divorce procedure to be completed without personal attendance of the spouses in court if they are represented by a Bulgarian divorce lawyer. So, a trustworthy and experienced lawyer can fill in all paperwork and appear in court on behalf of his clients thus making your divorce less painful and complicated.