Marriage and family law blindsides unwary expats

By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Shooting oneself in the foot is a common practice in Costa Rica.  Eye candy overwhelms some expats — men and women alike — into making bad decisions that affect their lives forever.

Many men and some women come to Costa Rica in search for love.  They come here because they could not find love at home.

Others come to the country just for the sexual adventure.  Costa Rica is considered one of the top sex tourism destinations of the world.  Amazingly, the current president admitted this fact in a news conference recently. Many past presidents have ignored the reality.

Problems arise for an expat when he or she meets the wrong mate.   Usually this happens because the expat is looking for love in all the wrong places.    Local men and women are everywhere, and they come in all varieties — straight, gay, and bisexual — looking to latch onto a foreigner.

Some of them really want to make a good wife, husband or mate.  Many of them just see dollar signs and a way to make extra money for bad habits like drugs or for their umpteen kids at home.

Professional lovers — prostitution is legal in Costa Rica, pimping is not — are great actors.   Their profession depends on it.  Expats tend to be very bad at seeing through a good show and fall in love easily.   Scientists say that sex hormones are powerful chemical messengers and can cloud people’s minds.

The fact is that many expats get taken to the cleaners here because they are not careful in their amorous relationships and because they do not know the law.

Lucky ones may get a wallet or a purse stolen in a hotel room. The not so lucky ones lose a lot more. Here is a true story:

A North American met a young women downtown in a popular place where many expat men go to look for various types of love.  He was smitten quickly and fell head over heels for her.  In a week, the North American bought his girlfriend a house, a car and a lot of furniture for the house.  He was not a rich man, so he pretty much invested everything he had into this relationship.

A month or so past, and the North American was at the new home when a truck drove up.  Men got out of the truck and started to load the furniture onto the truck.  The North American did not speak Spanish, so he did not know what was going on.  He tried to call the police. They answered, and someone on the other line in broken English told him police knew all about the situation.

The girlfriend had decided to pick up her furniture and move out.  She took the car too. Local officials assumed that the furniture and car were in her name.

In another situation, police booted a man out of his house in his skivvies because his girlfriend filed trumped up domestic violence charges against him.  In the current legal climate of Costa Rica, domestic violence cases are virtually impossible for a man to fight, and any court hearing can be months away.

Here is the crux.  Some expats do their due diligence when buying property because it is a big investment, but they do not do so in an affair of the heart.   However, expats should do their homework in an “affaire d’amour” because this is a big investment too.     shooting oneself in the foot

Here are some interesting facts:

If a man gets married in Costa Rica and his wife then has a child outside the marriage, the child automatically assumes the surname of the man.  Even with DNA testing this situation is almost impossible to reverse. And if the marriage breaks up, the man must continue to pay child support.

When getting married in Costa Rica, some expats fail to realize they are not marrying one person but an entire family.

In any marriage, one must stay married for at least three years before applying for a divorce.

Costa Rica’s family and domestic violence laws are tough and one-sided, on the side of women.   A man going in front of a judge in family court is damned from the outset.

But sometimes expat women have problems, too. A wealthy North American women decided to get a divorce from her Costa Rican husband. The husband successfully prevailed on a judge to award him substantial alimony so he could continue to live in a wealthy lifestyle after the divorce.

If an expat who is paying alimony and/or child support wants to leave the county, he or she must deposit 13 months of payments. Otherwise the expat will find an impedimento de salida, a judicial order, at the airport prohibiting him or her from getting on a flight.

Article 37 and 39 of the family code covers prenuptial agreements.  These types of legal understandings are usually made before a marriage, but it is possible to make them or modify them during a marriage.

Marrying a Tico or a Tica does not help the foreigner to get a visa to the United States unless the couple plans to live there. And even then the paperwork is a chore.

When looking for a mate, it is possible to meet the wrong one anywhere in the world.  However, when looking for love in a country known to be a sex tourism destination extra scrutiny is advised.

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