Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mr. Morley's Winning Advice by Berta Fernandez

When it comes to divorce and who gets to keep the house and children, it is not easy at all to stay rational and focused. The first gut instinct is to find a divorce lawyer that is on your side to defend your interests. As a Law School student, I understood during International Private Law class that ‘the best court case is the one that will never take place, especially, if you have different nationalities.

Many women have asked me how did I do it, how did I manage to continue a positive connection with my ex-husband and keep the physical custody of our daughter. It has not been an easy road: to the painful process of dealing with a myriad of emotions, social stigma, and uncertain legal consequences, you have to add the legal and practical complications that derive from being an expat with a mobile and international job. My short answer is that you need to always keep the eyes on the key priority: how can we minimize the damage for your child. In legal terms, it would be the equivalent to the principle of ‘the best interest of the child’. The beginning of the roadmap to that goal is the willingness to address the emotional needs and fears linked to the new family situation. After physically separating in 2006 in Washington DC, and consulting a number of divorce lawyers (some of them specialized in children issues), following advice we decided that going to couples’ and family therapy was the best approach for us. In parallel, we jointly drafted the voluntary separation and property settlement agreement. Granted, it was not always a linear process, but we managed to agree on what was fair financially speaking. I was transferred to Nicaragua in March 2008 for work reasons. In April the Superior Court of the District of Columbia awarded the divorce to the plaintiff, my ex-husband, without objections to the voluntary separation agreement. From that moment on, he travelled from the US on a regular basis to spend with our 4 year-old daughter as much time as he could, and keep their bond alive.

In March 2010, I got married with yet another expat who was working in Kenya, after starting a long-distance relationship. At that time, I thought it would be a positive next step for us to join him in Nairobi, which was a family duty station. My daughter could attend a great international school, I could take a break from work to spend more time with her, and we could enjoy family life again. Because of the distance from the US to Kenya, and the security situation, my ex-husband refused to give me permission (which was specified in the separation agreement) to move with her. Again, I had to measure what the critical path would be for the years to come – did I have a right to move to Kenya? And even so should I insist and end up fighting in a court?. Finding great legal advice in that precise moment when you need it the most is a rare and exceptional thing. I consulted Nicaraguan lawyers, but they were not well versed in International Family Law or Child Relocation. I knew Kenya had not ratified the International Convention on International Child Abduction, and I was not at all thinking of breaking unilaterally the terms of our separation agreement. After some research, I found Mr. Morley’s Law Firm and had what I believe to this day was the best money for value advice over the course of a 50-minute phone call. Mr. Morley listened carefully to the specific details of my situation, and asked me key questions about my future plans. Did I intend on living in Kenya for a long time? How strongly was I prepared to fight for it? He gave me a similar example that illustrated the titanic difficulty of convincing a US judge that Kenya was not a dangerous place (as per the US State Department evaluation), given that I would have the burden of the proof. It was in that moment that I realized that the best strategy was to not go to court, spend a fortune in legal fees, and ruin my good cooperation with my ex-husband in the process. Instead, I decided to wait a couple more years until our new family could relocate back to Europe. In 2012 we moved from Nicaragua to Malta to join my second husband, who has supported our daughter in all aspects. Last year brought many changes to our professional lives, and our family had to move again; this time to Brussels. But thanks to a collaborative approach, reinforced by Mr. Morley’s advice, my ex-husband and I keep on working closely together for her happiness and well being to this day.  

Berta Fernandez