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Divorce in Turkey

This guide was written by Başak Yıldız Orkun, Managing Partner at Orkun & Orkun (info@orkunorkun.com) in collaboration with Guides.Global (office@guides.global).

It was written on 21 July 2017. The law and practice in Turkey change all the time. Our guides are updated as frequently as possible - typically every three years - but may be out of date.

Our guides are prepared by professionals from many countries. They are, of necessity, both brief and general and can take no account of your personal circumstances. They are intended to be a good introduction to the subject BUT ARE NO SUBSTITUTE FOR PROPER PROFESSIONAL ADVICE, which our contributors will usually be happy to provide upon request.

The advice and opinions contained in the guides are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Guides.Global.

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The scope of this guide

This guide is about divorce in Turkey. In it, you will learn whether your existing divorce will be recognised in Turkey; how to get a divorce in Turkey; and what will happen to your assets and children in the event of a divorce. It also covers alimony/maintenance and general attitudes towards divorce in Turkey.

You may also want to watch the video version of this guide or download the audio (MP3) guide.

Introduction

Depending upon where you come from, it's likely that somewhere between 10% and 70% of all marriages end in divorce. In fact, this number is more commonly measured as either a crude divorce rate (the number of divorces per 1,000 of the population) or as a divorce-to-marriage ratio (the ration between the number of marriages in any year and the number of divorces). Both methods are rather unsatisfactory. However, they can give an indication of where a country stands in the world.

Turkey has a relatively low crude divorce rate of 1.6 divorces per 1,000 of the population and a divorce-to-marriage ratio of 20%. In Germany, the figures are 2.0 and 41% respectively; in Spain, 2.2 and 61%; in the UK, 2.0 and 47%; and in the US, 3.6 and 53%.

Divorce is the second most stressful life event (behind the death of your spouse - but before both imprisonment and the death of a close family member).

Whilst there are various steps to be taken to reduce the stress of divorce, probably the most important factor overall is the attitude of the legal system to divorce and the way in which your divorce will be dealt with.

Will my existing divorce be recognised in Turkey?

Fortunately, Turkey is a signatory to the Hague Marriage Convention (the 'Hague Convention on the Celebration and Recognition of the Validity of Marriages') of 1978, which entered into force in 1991. Turkey is unusual in adopting this Convention. So far only three other countries (Australia, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) have actually agreed to abide by it (become ‘contracting states’)! As the Convention only applies to marriages conducted in another contracting state then the practical effect of this is, at the moment, somewhat limited but should improve over time.

More importantly, therefore, Turkey is also a signatory to the Hague Convention of 1970 (the 'Hague Convention on the Recognition of Divorces and Legal Separations'). Some 20 other nations are parties to this convention. Most of these are in Europe. Importantly, the US is not a party to the Convention.

Divorce in a country that signed the 1970 Convention

Under The Hague Convention, a divorce or legal separation will be recognised provided that they have been performed in accordance with the legal process required in the state where they were obtained AND one of the following applies:

This all sounds a bit complicated but if, as is normally the case, you obtained a divorce in the country in which you and your ex-spouse had been resident for some time your divorce will be recognised.

It will also be recognised in the other circumstances set out in the Convention.

Divorce in a country that did not sign the 1970 Convention

In these circumstances, Turkey applies its own law of what is known as ‘comity’. These are the rules that apply in a country when considering whether to recognise the validity of legal and judicial acts that took place in another country. These rules apply in all sorts of situations other than divorce. For example, the recognition of contracts or debts recognised by the courts in another country.

In Turkey, the laws of comity are very generous.

Most countries will respect the legal, judicial and executive acts that took place in another country only if the recognition is reciprocated. Turkey presumes that any legal, executive and judicial act that took place in another country and in accordance with the law of that country is valid. The only exception to this is if the act in question is one that it would be repugnant to recognise in the light of the basic and fundamental laws of Turkey. For example, if the act is a request for extradition it will not be accepted if the person would face the death penalty. If the act is a judgement of a foreign court relating to defamation (slander or libel) it will not be recognised if the country making the order does not recognise the right to free speech.

However, when it comes to the question of divorce the position, in practise, is that any divorce legally valid in the country where the divorce was granted will be recognised as valid in Turkey.

divorceAs a foreigner, can I obtain a divorce in Turkey?

Yes. In many cases you will be able to do so.

Visitor or short-term resident in Turkey

You will not be able to apply for a divorce in Turkey.

Resident in Turkey

If you are officially resident in Turkey – and there is no minimum period of residence required you can bring a case in the Family Court and obtain a divorce. Of course, you will have to show that you have grounds for divorce under the law of Turkey.

Note that it is only you who has to be resident in Turkey for this period. It is not necessary that your spouse has ever been resident in Turkey.

Also note there may be other places where you could start divorce proceedings. For example, you could normally start divorce proceedings in the country in which your spouse was resident. Finally, please note that, as Turkey is not a member of the European Union (EU), the “Brussels II Convention” does not apply.

What are the grounds for divorce in Turkey?

A court in Turkey can only grant you a divorce if you can show that you have legal grounds for obtaining a divorce.

There are two types of divorces in Turkey: fault actions and no-fault actions.

Fault actions

In the case of divorces sought on the grounds of fault, the Court will only grant a divorce if it is satisfied that the spouse who is applying for the divorce has proved that the other spouse has been guilty of at least one of the types of conduct specified below.

You can apply for a divorce on the basis that:

Your spouse has committed adultery

Not surprisingly, this is defined as voluntary sexual intercourse between the spouse and a third party. More surprisingly, intercourse between two people of the same gender is not considered to be adultery.

The application for divorce must be filed within six months of discovering the adultery and within five years of it being committed.

If you have pardoned your spouse’s adultery (verbally or in writing) you will lose the right to get a divorce on this basis.

When dealing with a divorce on the basis of adultery, the Court will insist that both parties are present in court and will hear verbal evidence from the parties rather than rely on written statements.

Your spouse has engaged in behaviour which puts your life at risk

This is self-explanatory.

Your spouse has maltreated you

divorceMaltreatment includes beating your spouse “in a ruthless way” – not all violence may be sufficient to bring a divorce on this basis. It can also include more subtle means of maltreatment such as failing to provide food, preventing them from leaving the house or seeing their family, and so on.

This ground is subject to the same provisions as to pardoning and time limits as apply in the case of adultery.

Your spouse has humiliated you

Significant humiliation by your spouse is grounds for divorce. What is significant humiliation is open to interpretation by the Court but as well as the making of abusive comments (verbally or in writing), humiliation can also result from your being thrown out of the family home.

This ground is subject to the same provisions as to pardoning and time limits as apply in the case of adultery.

Your spouse has committed a crime

The crime must be a serious crime such as to cause humiliation to the other spouse and so that the other spouse can no longer reasonably be expected to live with the criminal spouse. The definition of a “humiliating crime” is contained in the Turkish Constitution but includes things such as theft, fraud, corruption, bribery and the like.

Your spouse has behaved unreasonably

This is the most common reason for fault actions. Unreasonable behaviour is behaviour that is disrespectful of the morality and honour of the other spouse or of society in general. It must be such conduct that the other spouse finds it intolerable to continue living with the person who committed it.

Your spouse has deserted you

If a spouse willingly deserts the other for a minimum of six months this will constitute grounds for filing for divorce. Absence as a result of imprisonment, business, military service or the like will not count.

If you wish to apply for divorce on this basis you need to serve notice on your spouse asking them to come back and giving them two months in which to do so.

Your spouse suffers from a mental disease

If your spouse suffers from an incurable mental illness (confirmed by a medical report) and you find the continuation of the marriage intolerable, you may apply for a divorce.

Irretrievable breakdown

This is a very general concept and subject to the interpretation of the Court. The Court must be satisfied that the conduct of the other spouse is such that the petitioning spouse genuinely finds it impossible to live with them. If the marriage has lasted for more than a year and both parties agree to a divorce then the court will consider that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. As in the case of adultery, the Court will insist on hearing the evidence of the parties in person before agreeing to end the marriage in this way. The same applies if the parties have lived apart for a period of more than three years, whether or not they both agree to the divorce.

No-fault action

These cases are cases where the parties agree to obtain a divorce and have both recorded that agreement in a form accepted to the Court.

Matrimonial regimes

In common with most countries where the law is based on the continental European legal system, Turkey has clear rules about what should happen to the assets of the couple after their marriage. These rules make up what is known as the matrimonial property regime.

There are various ‘standard’ matrimonial property regimes from which the couple can choose at the time when they get married or which they can adopt after the marriage. In addition to these standard regimes, the couple can also specify a special arrangement which they have reached and properly documented.

The standard regimes include the ‘separate property regime’, the ‘shared separate property regime’, the ‘communal property regime’, and the ‘participation in acquired assets regime’.

Separate property regime

Under these rules, the couple’s assets are not shared. What belongs to the husband belongs to the husband, and what belongs to the wife belongs to the wife. So any money earned by the husband during the marriage would remain his property, as would any assets that he acquires – whether by purchase or in any other way. The same would apply to the wife.

Shared separate property regime

Under this arrangement, any of the couple’s assets acquired after the date of their marriage will belong to them equally unless they were acquired as a result of inheritance, in which case they will belong solely to the person who inherited them.

Any assets acquired before the marriage will remain the property of the person who acquired them.

Communal property regime

Under this arrangement, all income coming into the household, and all assets acquired by the couple, will belong to them equally.

Participation in acquired assets regime

Under this arrangement – which is the one which will apply if no other arrangement is chosen – the couple will benefit equally from any assets acquired during the marriage but they will each remain the sole owner of the assets that they owned at the time of the marriage.

The validity of pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreements

Pre-nuptial agreements

Pre-nuptial agreements are recognised in Turkey if they have been reached in accordance with the proper formalities.

For a marriage conducted in Turkey, those formalities require either that the agreement is made and signed in front of a Notary or that the proposed arrangements are declared to the officer conducting the marriage and recorded as part of the marriage documentation.

For marriages that did not occur in Turkey, the application of pre-nuptial agreements should, in principle, pose no problem; but the application of these agreements seems to be a little patchy. 

Post-nuptial agreements

A couple can change the matrimonial property regime that should apply to them at any point after the celebration of the marriage. To do this, they must inform the registrar of marriages, in writing, of their wish to do so.

For marriages conducted outside Turkey but where the parties are resident in Turkey, the position is more complicated. The ability to change the financial arrangements relating to the marriage will depend upon the wish of the parties and the applicable law that governs the marriage. In some cases this can be Turkish law (see above) but in others it could be the law of the country where the marriage was celebrated or even the law of the country in which both of the parties are permanently resident. As a result, a person wishing to change the financial arrangements governing their marriage, and who married outside Turkey, should seek legal advice.

What is the process of divorce in Turkey?

Mediation

Mediation is not widely used in relation to divorces in Turkey.

Application for divorce

In Turkey, applications for divorce are made to the Court.

Under the Turkish Code of Civil Procedure, the court which has jurisdiction to deal with a divorce case is generally the court of the place where the defendant is domiciled. For these purposes, “domicile” means the place where they reside on a fixed and permanent basis.

In some cases, it can be argued that another court might have jurisdiction. Where this is so, the person starting the divorce proceedings can decide which of the two courts to use.

When it comes to property disputes that arise out of a divorce case, different rules may apply. If the parties have, by the time of the property dispute, different domiciles (i.e. they’re permanently resident in areas covered by different courts), then the property dispute may be dealt with in the court where either of the parties is domiciled but, generally, the court that first took charge of the case will have priority and deal with the whole of the case.

The process in the case of a ‘no fault’ divorce

If the Parties are applying for a divorce on the ‘no fault’ basis, and they’ve been married for at least one year, the process can be very quick.

There will usually be a written agreement between the Parties consenting to the divorce and setting out what should happen to the couple’s assets and their children.

The judge may accept the terms of this agreement and simply grant the divorce, or they may vary the terms of the agreements insofar as they relate to what should happen to the Children: where they live, financial arrangements for them, etc. The judge may not vary the terms agreed about how the matrimonial property should be divided.

An agreed divorce may be dealt with in as little as two weeks. Despite the fact that it is agreed, the Parties may appeal against the decision within 15 days.

The process in the case of contested divorces

Contested divorces are also dealt with by the courts in Turkey.

The Court that has jurisdiction is determined by the rules set out above.

During the course of the divorce hearing, the Court will decide whether the alleged grounds for the divorce exist and justify the divorce in legal terms and it will also decide what shall happen to the couple’s assets and children. The Court can also award the ‘innocent’ party compensation for the behaviour they have suffered or the stress they have been caused.

What happens to the children?

divorceUnder the law of Turkey, the interests of the Children are the Court's primary concern when dealing with any divorce.

In order to do this the Court will consider the issues below.

If there is agreement by the parties on these issues the Court will consider whether the agreement appears to be fair and reasonable when looked at from the perspective of the Children.

If there is no agreement between the parties or if it feels that that agreement is unreasonable, the Court will make such orders as it sees fit.

The issues to be considered are:

Guardianship

Which of the parents should be responsible for making all the major decisions regarding the Child's life? These include the type of schooling to be received, major healthcare decisions, religious observance, the country of residence etc. It is normal (and where possible) for these decisions to be made by the parents together, even after divorce. In cases where the relationship between the parents has deteriorated to where this is not possible the Court will give this responsibility to one of the parents.

Residence

With which parent will the Child reside on a day-to-day basis? This is the parent who will also have the responsibility for making the day-to-day decisions regarding the Child's life.

Access/visitation

What arrangements should be made for the parent with whom the Child does not live to see the Child? These arrangements are normally expressed in general terms rather than as specifics. For example, the Child is to live with the other parent for one weekend a month and to see the other parent for one day per week. It is then for the parties to make the detailed arrangements. If it is not possible for them to agree these then the matter can be brought back to the Court. The Court does not want to see this and if a parent is seen as being unreasonable they are likely to be penalised heavily when it comes to the question of court costs.

The parent being granted visitation rights has the right to see the child alone – i.e. other than in the presence of the other parent.

The home

Generally, in the case of children under the age of about six, the Court is likely to order that the Child should live with its mother, unless there is something unsatisfactory about the mother’s lifestyle.

Financial provision

Who should pay to look after the Child, and how much?

Generally, the Court will expect the Parent with the income – typically the father – to pay to support the children or (if both of the parents have an income) to contribute to the support of the children. This will generally continue until the age of 18, or until the child’s earlier marriage, or until some other date agreed by the Parties.

The amount to be paid depends entirely on the means of the person making the payment.

Social workers

It is not normal for the Court to appoint a social worker to have oversight of the child.

What happens to the money?

Assets

As we’ve already seen, in Turkey the courts apply the ‘matrimonial regime’ to the assets owned by a couple at the time of a divorce or legal separation.

Those assets can either be distributed ‘in kind’ – for example, the wife retaining the matrimonial home and the husband the Ferrari – or they can be sold and the proceeds of sale divided accordingly.

Given that the couples freely choose their matrimonial regime at the time of their marriage and that they can change it later, the Court is reluctant to interfere with the decisions that the Parties have made and documented.

Ongoing support

Whether there should be ongoing support and, in there is, for how long it should remain in place, depends entirely upon the circumstances of the case and – in particular – the financial circumstances of the parties. The general position is that the person with money should support the one without. This still results, typically, in payments from the husband to the wife but in principle it could equally work the other way around.

Once payments are ordered, they will generally remain in place until the remarriage of the person receiving the payments.

How does this affect non-married couples?

It doesn't. There is no provision for the ‘divorce’ of such couples. However, they do have the right to go to the Court for their affairs to be untangled. The orders that will be made are based on the twin principles of fairness and recognising the contributions made by the two parties to their relationship.

How does this affect same sex couples?

They are treated exactly the same as non-married heterosexual couples.

The Turkish population system (MERNIS)

Since 2001, Turkey has used a central online system to deal with many aspects of recording details of its population. The Central Population Administrative System (MERNIS) makes data readily available online on what is close to a real time basis. It is a comprehensive system: registering births, marriages, divorces, and deaths, as well as when people are entitled to vote, and when they change address. But not all of the information is available to everybody.

It is relevant in the case of divorces for two reasons.

First, when it comes to serving your application for a divorce on your spouse, their address should be recorded in the MERNIS system and accessible by the Court. Thus it is the Court that serves the papers, by post.

It is a legal obligation to notify the system when you move house - there is a fine if you fail to do so. As a result, the system is treated as authoritative to the extent that if the Court sends the documents to the other person, by post, to their recorded address they will have been deemed to have been received.

The second consequence is that, when a divorce is granted, the Court will record the granting of the divorce on the MERNIS system. It does not issue a paper certificate of divorce, which is what you would expect in most countries. If at any stage you need to prove that you were divorced, you can do so via the MERNIS system.

Many people were sceptical about whether this would work in a very large and populous country, parts of which are fairly basic in terms of their administration but – perhaps to most people’s surprise – it has worked well.

How long does a divorce take?

A typical case will be resolved in about one year, but there is then a right of appeal, and the process of appeal can take a further one year.

How much does it cost?

This depends upon the complexity of the divorce.

Conclusion

Divorce in Turkey is, as in all countries, about one million times easier if the two parties are reasonable. A divorce in which a party is determined to hurt the other will be more painful for both.

Other guides of interest

 Description Link 
Turkey Country Guide
Essential facts and figures about Turkey
Click to see this guide
Family Law in Turkey
Separation, paternity, adoption.
Click to see this guide
Child Abduction to Turkey
What to do if your child is taken to Turkey by the other parent.
Click to see this guide

Readers' Comments

 

Further information?

I hope you have found this guide useful. If you need any further help, please contact me.

Başak Yıldız Orkun

21 July 2017


 

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