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Getting Divorced

Everyone who makes a permanent move to Bulgaria does so with the hope of a bright new shining future ahead of them. However when the novelty value and newness of living abroad wears off, some couples find that whilst they still love Bulgaria, they no longer love each other. Naturally, one or both of you can return back to the UK and qualify for a divorce under UK law after six months of permanent residency again, but for those who still want to experience the Bulgarian dream getting a divorce here is not that straightforward.

In 1985, the Bulgarian government, who were worried about the falling birth rate, changed the divorce laws making it harder to get “unhitched.” When the Bulgarian Family Code was first the fees to get a divorce cost more than three months' average salary, and each divorce petition involved an investigation.

Divorce by Mutual Consent

The easiest way to get a divorce now in Bulgaria is by mutual consent. This means that both spouses agree to terminate the marriage and therefore do not have to provide reasons for the marriage failing. Court taxes for this type of application are much lower, although the couple is required to attend a mediation meeting before and state before the counselors present that they both still wish to dissolve the marriage; the purpose in law of this session is to avoid a divorce. You have to have been married for three years before you can file for a divorce on these grounds (although this part of Family Law is under discussion) but you do not need a period of separation beforehand.
Divorcing by mutual consent states that  ‘the spouses must regulate their agreement on child custody, access and maintenance and on the division of property, the use of the matrimonial home, the payment of maintenance, and the use of the family name. The agreement is ratified by the court after it is satisfied that the interests of the children have been protected.’

In cases where the agreement is found to be incomplete or against the interests of the children, the court will give the couple a period of time to revise their agreement. If they cannot reach a suitable agreement then the court will dismiss the divorce petition.

Agreements may be changed in terms of child custody and maintenance if there has been a change in circumstances.

Irretrievable Breakdown

Either spouse can petition for a divorce if they can prove that the marriage has suffered a ‘serious and irretrievable breakdown.’ There is no time limit in how long you have been married if petitioning on these grounds. This is not as easy to prove as you may first believe; you must provide examples and witnesses of the breakdown, which occurred in month before you launched your petition. Therefore, if you were the subject of domestic violence two months prior to submitting your petition, then you cannot bring it into account. Likewise if you want to divorce and are willing to site your own behavior as responsible for the breakdown, this is also unacceptable; a divorce will not be granted if the breakdown of the marriage is solely due to the misconduct of the petitioner and the respondent wants the marriage to continue. For example if you have an affair and wish to divorce, you cannot site your own adultery as the reason for divorce if your spouse is intent on staying with you.

In cases where irretrievable breakdown can be proved, the court rules on who is responsible and how assets should be divided and children cared for unless both spouses request and submit an agreement to the court on custody, maintenance and access of their children, the division of property, the use of the matrimonial home and the use of the family name.

Determining Irretrievable Breakdown

There are no specifications laid down by the Bulgarian Family Code as to what constitutes irretrievable breakdown. The petitioner must present clear facts and examples that prove that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The only definition provided by Bulgarian law is as follows: ‘a breakdown, which has resulted in the disjunction of family relations and in lack of mutuality, respect, trust and companionship between the spouses, as a result of which the matrimonial union is of formal content only and does not correspond to the law’, and has held that ‘a breakdown is irretrievable if it cannot be overcome in such a way that normal marital relations are restored’. This seems to be relatively straight forward given that in the UK irretrievable breakdown is proved under many conditions; however in Bulgaria adultery, separation, violence and alcoholism are not considered as sufficient grounds for divorce. They must be presented and proven in court and the court draws its conclusions based on the evidence and facts it hears. It also assesses the influence and impact of each fact, which also functions as a reason for the breakdown, within that particular marriage. In judicial practice, the major facts that have to be proved are the existence of a serious breakdown and its causes and the facts and statements of parties need to be proved otherwise, the petition is rejected. Law here states that, “Matrimonial offences do not in themselves constitute a reason for the serious breakdown of a marriage. This will be deemed to be the case only where the matrimonial offences have resulted in the disintegration of the marriage. The court has to be governed not by the significance of the reason, but only by its impact on matrimonial relations.”

The conditions that might constitute good reasons for divorce are a long period of actual separation and the impracticality of re-establishing the marriage. However the separation must be lengthy – in Bulgaria one year is not considered long enough! The law actually supports claims based on the grounds of separation, “where the spouses have been living separately for ten or more years, albeit under the same roof, and have each looked after their own wants (cooking, hygiene, etc.), without showing any interest in the other, this constitutes an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.” Or ‘the duration of the actual separation (more than 3 years in this case) may have some impact on the condition of the marriage.’

How to Initiate a Divorce

If you intend to petition on the grounds of your marriages irretrievable breakdown, you need to file a divorce petition before the court. This is best done through a lawyer who will be able to help you draw up suitable grounds on which to petition. In such cases your spouse can contest your grounds and the divorce will not proceed.

If you divorce by mutual consent, both spouses file a petition and there is no legal requirement for the petition to be in a special form, although it must contain the names and addresses of the spouses, the facts of the case, the claim and evidence to support the claim, which effectively is that no dispute exists and there is a common goal to terminate the marriage. You can actually obtain the wording and a standard layout for this online. You will then be asked to attend a conciliation session and if this is “successful” the court hearing takes place immediately after it. In order to express effective mutual consent, you must both be present in person. If divorcing by mutual consent you do not need to hire a lawyer and will find this method of divorce much cheaper and quicker to execute.

The Final Decree

A marriage is dissolved when the court issues the decree, which takes around one month. Even if the divorce is subject to appeal, Bulgarian civil law states, ‘A divorce decree shall enter into force even if it has been appealed, provided that the appeal relates only to the issue of fault.’

The thing to remember is it does not matter where you got married, be it the UK or a Caribbean Island, if you both continue to live in Bulgaria you can only divorce under Bulgarian law and divorce is only obtainable through the district courts.