Divorcing in a Second Language: Tips for Divorce in the U.S.

Divorce is a complex process in the best of cases. But if you’re attempting to navigate a divorce in the English language when it isn’t your native one, it can be especially daunting. 

On top of the challenges of trying to understand legal terminology and court procedures, divorcing in a second language can add a layer of complexity to an already complicated process. 

While language barriers can slow down a divorce process, having the right resources, legal representation, and strategies in place beforehand can help you, as a non-native speaker, maneuver this emotionally challenging time more smoothly. 

Understand the legal system

Divorce laws and customs vary greatly from country to country. U.S. laws and terminology may differ from those you are familiar with. 

Divorce is regulated by each state in the U.S., and divorce laws can vary from state to state. Regardless of your English proficiency, you will want to take the time to understand the specific state laws you will be navigating. 

Your legal team or an interpreter can translate legal concepts for you in the context of your divorce so you fully understand your legal rights and responsibilities. You can then ask important questions and have an open dialogue about the particulars of your divorce. 

Complete paperwork in your language first

When English is not your first language, the translation of divorce documents can make up a large part of the process.

Divorce forms in the U.S. usually have directions in several other languages, especially common ones like Spanish. But language and context can still pose a barrier. Even if you speak fluent English, there may be nuances between languages that make it difficult to say what you mean and have it correctly interpreted by the court.

Completing your divorce paperwork in your native language first helps you understand them and respond correctly. It can then be translated back into English words for filing purposes. 

Simple translation tools like Google Translate aren’t equipped to convey linguistic subtleties, so you will want to seek a bilingual legal team, translation service, or translation platform such as Trusted Translations to help you.

Understand you may need to disclose uncomfortable information

Navigating divorce in a second language isn’t just about language differences. It can also be about cultural and religious differences between the USA and your native country.

During your divorce, you may be asked to disclose very personal information you normally would feel uncomfortable sharing with close family members or friends, let alone complete strangers. Yet, this information may have a vital impact on your divorce settlement. 

Your legal team should understand and be sensitive to your cultural and religious customs and beliefs throughout the divorce process. They should take the time to explain to you why some information is necessary to your case. And, they should be able to convey to the court why some things are important to you in the context of culture or religion.

Ask the court for a foreign language interpreter

If you will appear before a judge, you must be prepared to explain things and answer questions. Consequently, you will need to understand what is being said and be able to convey a response correctly. 

While relatives and other non-certified interpreters will not be allowed to interpret for you during the court proceedings, you have the right to have an official interpreter. An interpreter can help bridge communication gaps, ensuring you are correctly heard and understood. Keep in mind that you will need to ask for an interpreter in advance, and some states may charge you for that service. 

Note: If you speak a regional dialect, your interpreter should also be fluent in that dialect.

Ask for clarification

A divorce is a serious legal proceeding that can impact the rest of your life. You should understand everything going on during your divorce proceeding. At any time, if you’re having difficulty keeping up or understanding what is being said, speak up. The judge will need to slow down and explain what is going on in a more digestible and easily understood manner, or you will need further interpretation. 

Don’t demure and agree to anything without fully understanding what it is and its broader implications. This is true whether English is a new language for you or your native one. If you consent without full understanding, you could be agreeing to things that are not in your best interest.

Find your allies

The divorce process can feel intimidating to anyone. Finding knowledgeable people who understand your language and culture and can support you through the process can make a world of difference. 

A divorce attorney who is fluent in your native language can explain many things to you slowly and understandably. They will be well-versed in the state divorce laws and understand your situation from a social and cultural context, so they can explain the process to you and convey issues to the court.

You could also work with a bilingual divorce coach, volunteers from the nearby legal aid society, support groups, or even friends and family who can provide professional and emotional support and role-play with you to work through any potential challenges you might encounter. 

If you are navigating an American divorce as a non-native English speaker, Hello Divorce is here to help. Schedule a free call and learn more about navigating a divorce in a second language. You can also read our CEO Erin Levine's interview with Worthy for more information about the subject. 

Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.