Surprisingly, Panama ranks 4th in the world behind the U.S. and just ahead of Russia in per capita divorce rate.
According to an article published in Panama’s largest daily newspaper, La Prensa, on March 8, 2010 Panama divorces nearly doubled from 2,997 in 2008 to 5,674 in 2009.
The Divorce Laws in Panama
Law of January 17, 1911 created Panama’s first Divorce law which allowed a spouse free of any wrong doing to request a divorce if the other spouse committed shameful acts.
Panama’s Civil Code was adopted in 1917 providing the basis for a divorce on grounds such as adultery committed by the wife, the husband keeping a concubine, cruelty, attempt by the husband to prostitute the wife, and abandonment.
Law 3 of May 1994 created Panama’s Family Code modified by Law 12 of 1994 which is still in force.
Basis for Obtaining a Panama Divorce
Panama’s Family Code lists 10 reasons for granting a divorce. These include alcoholism, abandonment, drug addiction, acts of violence, attempts to make a spouse into a prostitute, psychological damage, a separation for more than two years, failure to meet support obligations for the family, and mutual consent.
Panama follows the centuries old Spanish civil law doctrine of marital community property which means that anything a spouse brings into the marriage and gets during the marriage belongs to both spouses. A pre-nuptial agreement separating the individual assets and preventing a spouse from claiming half ownership is accepted in Panama. Marital assets can include corporate stocks (including bearer shares), real properties, securities, vehicles, and bank accounts.
Panama Family Law is meant to treat the spouses equally, but divorce courts tend to favor the wife especially if there are children.
Alimony and Child Support
Alimony and child support are granted by the divorce court with cost of living increases, education, and any special needs for the children’s upbringing. The spouse’s alimony is provided so the spouse can continue to live the life he or she is accustomed to in relation to each spouse’s income. Alimony continues until the spouse remarries. Child support remains until the child turns 25 or becomes independent.
Mutual Consent Panama Divorce
Both parties can agree to a Mutual Consent Panama Divorce as long as the issues regarding community property, alimony, child support, and visitation rights are agreed upon. This is a faster and easier way to get a Panama divorce but it still requires a Panama divorce court process.
If you do not speak and understand Spanish legal terms you will need a Spanish translator for the Panama divorce court proceedings. You will be at a big disadvantage if you cannot be understood in a Panama divorce court.
Married to a Non-Panamanian
If your spouse is not a Panamanian he or she can possibly file for a divorce in their own country even if you were married in Panama. This can become very costly and complicated with the spouse probably getting better treatment by his or her home country’s divorce court. If you know your marriage is heading for a divorce you might find it advantageous to file in Panama or your home country first.
Unilateral Panama Divorce
If only one spouse wants a divorce and claims one of the ten allowable grounds for a Panama divorce while claiming the other spouse is at fault, a Unilateral Panama Divorce can be granted. However, the spouse filing for the Panama divorce under these grounds must be totally innocent and not accused of any of the grounds for divorce by the other spouse.
Contentious Panama Divorce
This is a Panama divorce where the spouses can’t agree on a Mutual Consent Panama Divorce. This can be a long and expensive process. Panama family courts are in place to handle Panama divorce cases.
Panama Divorce Process:
• The formal request for a Panama divorce requires it be in writing, include the full names of the spouses (include Panama cedula numbers), and the grounds for a divorce.
• The defendant must be served with the complaint after it is filed.
• A hearing must be conducted within 15 days from when the defendant is served.
• In the first hearing the court will try to see if there is a possibility of reconciliation by the spouses.
• If that is not possible the court will accept evidence from both parties.
• The judge will prepare a summary of the proceedings which the parties will sign. If one or both parties refuse to sign, it will be noted in the court records.
• If no further hearings are required the court will issue a Panama divorce decree. The court has the right to deny the divorce petition.
• The losing party has the right to appeal the final decision to the Family Superior Court. No new evidence will be allowed unless it can be proved it can change the outcome. The decision by this court will be the final decree.
If the divorce is granted, the court will issue a Panama Divorce Decree which will be filed with Panama’s Public Registry.
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