The Divorce Process in Costa Rica

por | Last updated Jul 15, 2024 | English

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Ending a marital relationship is one of the most difficult and painful personal decisions, as it not only affects the couple but also their entire social and family environment. Additionally, this decision involves going through a judicial process that commonly generates fear, doubts, and expectations because it will need to resolve issues such as the division of marital assets, household items, who will retain custody of the children, the visitation schedule, and the setting of child support payments.

Due to the sensitivity of the subject, it is most advisable to consult with a Family Law specialist who can efficiently guide you through this process. In this article, we aim to share the necessary steps in the divorce process to assist those who have decided or are considering divorce in Costa Rica.

 

The Divorce Process in Costa Rica

Step 1: Define the Grounds for Divorce

Step 2: Prepare the Petition with an Expert Family Law Attorney

Step 3: File the Petition with the Family Court

Step 4: Judicial Hearing and Conciliation

Step 5: Judge’s Ruling

Step 6: Registration of the Divorce and Its Assets

 

Step 1: Define the Grounds for Divorce

To file for divorce with the Family Court, the first step is to determine whether it is a divorce by mutual consent or a divorce based on specific grounds.

In the case of mutual consent, there is a prior agreement between the spouses on all legal aspects of the separation, and they simply request the judicial authority to approve or authorize this agreement, as regulated by Article 48, Section 7 of the Family Code of Costa Rica.

If there is no bilateral agreement, it will be necessary to claim one of the other grounds defined in Article 48, which include:

  • Adultery by either spouse;
  • An attempt by one spouse against the life of the other or their children;
  • One spouse attempting to prostitute or corrupt the other, or the corruption of either spouse’s children;
  • Cruelty towards the other spouse or their children;
  • Judicial separation for no less than one year, if there has been no reconciliation during that period;
  • Legally declared absence of a spouse;
  • De facto separation for no less than three years.

In this scenario, the spouse seeking the divorce must provide all evidence proving the faults committed by their partner, which legally entitle them to demand the termination of the marital bond. This evidence can be documentary or testimonial and must be presented before the Family Judge if the responding spouse denies the facts of the petition, at which point they must also present their counter-evidence.

 

Step 2: Prepare the Petition with an Expert Family Law Attorney

To prepare the petition, the spouse affected by their partner’s actions must provide a clear description of the events so that the attorney can draft each point with the necessary legal foundation and evidence to support the case theory. Additionally, the petition must clearly state the demands, i.e., what the petitioner wants the judge to resolve in the ruling.

The court is required to rule on the following:

  • The distribution of marital assets (all acquired during the marriage);
  • The distribution of household items;
  • Custody, upbringing, and education of minor children (if any);
  • Visitation rights of minor children (if any);
  • Spousal and child support, unless this issue is being addressed in the Child Support Court.

The judge must also determine the guilty spouse in the breakup, which implies the loss of the right to request alimony for themselves.

Several essential documents must always be submitted when filing for divorce with the Family Court, including:

  • Marriage certificate;
  • Birth certificates of the children (if any);
  • Certification of movable and immovable assets of both spouses.

If the divorcing couple has children, it will be necessary to notify the National Child Welfare Agency (PANI) to participate in the process in defense of the children’s rights.

 

Step 3: File the Petition with the Family Court

After gathering all necessary information and documents to support the divorce petition, it is filed with the competent Family Court, indicating a means for receiving notifications. The court will issue an initial resolution, notifying the responding party to respond within a given timeframe to each fact and present any necessary counter-evidence.

 

Step 4: Judicial Hearing and Conciliation

If the responding spouse opposes the petition, the court will schedule a date and time for the judicial hearing, where the evidence presented by both parties will be examined, and testimonies from witnesses and the couple will be taken, allowing the judge to evaluate the facts and evidence presented to issue a ruling. Before the hearing begins, the judge will provide the parties and their attorneys an opportunity to attempt conciliation and reach an agreement to terminate the process early, avoiding the need for a judicial decision.

 

Step 5: Judge’s Ruling

The judge will analyze the grounds for divorce in relation to the facts and evidence and must determine who is right, issuing a ruling that addresses each mandatory legal aspect (marital assets, child custody, visitation rights, and support). The ruling must be well-founded. If either or both parties disagree with the decision, they may file an appeal against the ruling.

 

Step 6: Registration of the Divorce and its Assets

Once the ruling becomes final, which will occur if neither party appeals the decision or after the higher court resolves the appeal, either of the former spouses can request the Family Court to issue certifications of the ruling (executions) as follows:

  • To dissolve the marital bond: One execution must be submitted to the Civil Registry to record the divorce, providing necessary public notice to any third party.
  • To register the change of ownership of marital assets: Another execution must be submitted to the National Registry to record the change of ownership of the assets as decided in the ruling, or at least to record the change of civil status regarding the registrable assets, ensuring no future inconvenience in transferring the property.

 

Duration of the Divorce Process in Costa Rica

When filing a divorce petition based on grounds with a court, individuals should be prepared to wait at least 18 months for the judge’s decision. However, depending on the number of pending cases the court has, the timeframe could increase significantly. In some cases, we have represented clients in divorce processes that took more than seven years to reach a final resolution.

Generally, the less conflict between the spouses and the more their attorneys cooperate, the greater the chances of a prompt resolution. Divorce processes by mutual consent are faster because there is no conflict or need for hearings, and depending on the court, they typically take between 2 to 6 months to be approved.

 

Proper Guidance from a Family Lawyer in Costa Rica

While any attorney can represent the parties in a divorce process, it is advisable to seek guidance from an expert in the field, considering that family conflicts require empathetic professionals who are well-trained in various areas. These professionals must technically analyze family, economic, psychological, social, corporate, and even criminal issues, without forgetting the delicate conflicts facing the couple, their children, and even other family members and friends, potentially affecting the spouses’ job stability and businesses.

It is important to remember that in a divorce, there are no winners, only varying degrees of loss for both parties. Therefore, the sooner the conflict can be resolved and everyone can move on with their lives, the better it will be for all involved.

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