Family Problems (Separation, Divorce & Paternity) in Turkey

This guide deals with some of the more stressful and upsetting times in a person's life. As always, though, the more information you have, the better prepared you are for what lies ahead.

Video guide to family law

You may be interested in our video interview about family law in Turkey, with Turkish lawyer Başak Yıldız Orkun. Learn more by scrolling down and reading the detailed guide she has written.

Separation in Turkey

What is separation?

Separation is where two people who have formerly been living together ‘as man and wife’ decide to go their separate ways but without (in the case of a married couple) divorcing and so bringing the marriage to an end.

Despite the expression ‘living together as man and wife’, the same arrangements apply in the case of unmarried and/or same sex couples.

The concept of ‘living together’ requires some level of physical intimacy. These arrangements do not apply to people merely living together as friends.

There is no specific provision for dealing with such separations in Turkey, but people can bring a case before the Family Court under its general jurisdiction and the Court will apply much the same rules as it would apply in the case of a divorce except, of course, it would not end a marriage.

Divorce in Turkey

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 ratio 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%.

We know that 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). It is the same in Turkey.

Whilst there are various steps that can be taken to reduce the stress of divorce, probably the most important factors overall are how difficult your partner tries to be and the attitude of the legal system to divorce, as reflected in the way in which your divorce will be dealt with.

Terminology in this guide

  • Access (görme hakkı): the right of a parent who does not normally look after the Child to see the Child
  • Child/Children (evlat): a child/the children of the marriage orthe child/the children of one of the parties and adopted by the other or a child/the children adopted by both parties
  • Custody (velayet): the right of a person to have day-to-day care and control of the Child
  • Financial provision (Mal Paylaşımı): arrangements agreed between the parties (and, if necessary, adopted by the court) or arrangements ordered by the court as to what should happen to the assets of the parties to the marriage and as to ongoing financial support for either of the parties to the marriage or the Children
  • Maintenance (Nafaka): ongoing financial provision by one of the parties of the divorce to the other or to any children
  • Petitioner (Davacı): the person applying for the divorce
  • Respondent (Davalı): the person against whom the divorce proceedings have been started

Will my existing divorce be recognised in Turkey?

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 this 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. The US is not a party to the Convention.

Divorce in a country that signed the 1970 Convention

Under The Hague Convention of 1970, a divorce or legal separation will be recognised provided that it has been performed in accordance with the legal process required in the state where it was obtained and one of the following applies:

  • The Respondent was resident in the state where the proceedings were started at the time the proceedings were started. For these purposes the term ‘resident’ has its normal, common sense meaning. The person must have been associated with that state for a significant amount of time and, where necessary, have the necessary official permission to be resident in that state or;
  • The Petitioner was resident in the state where the proceedings were started at the time when the proceedings were started and had been so resident for at least a year or;
  • The Petitioner was resident in the state where the proceedings were started at the time when the proceedings were started and had been so resident for any period of time together with the Respondent or;
  • The state where the proceedings were started is the state of which both parties were citizens or;
  • The state where the proceedings were started was the state of which the Petitioner was a citizen and where he lived or where he had lived for at least one year in the past two years or;
  • The state where the proceedings were started was the state of which the Petitioner was a citizen – and where he was, at the time the proceedings were started, physically present – and the state in which the parties had, immediately before the presentation of the divorce petition, had their joint residence does not provide for divorce

This all sounds a bit complicated but almost all overseas divorces will be recognised. 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 any other 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 practice, is that any divorce legally valid in the country where the divorce was granted will be recognised as valid in Turkey.

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

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

Visitor in Turkey

You will not be able to apply for a divorce during your visit to Turkey! You can safely take your holiday here.

Resident in Turkey

If you are officially resident in Turkey – 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. It is not necessary that your spouse has ever been resident in Turkey. This, of course, only relates to seeking a divorce from the Turkish courts. There may well be other countries where, whilst you are resident in Turkey, you could seek a divorce. For example, you could normally start divorce proceedings in the country in which your spouse was residing.

This gives rise to questions as to (depending on your approach to life) which jurisdiction is going to be fairest, which jurisdiction is going to give you the best result, which jurisdiction is going to be fastest, which jurisdiction is going to be the cheapest, and so on.

Finally, please note that, as Turkey is not a member of the European Union (EU), the ‘Brussels II Convention’ does not apply.

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