Expat couples: Protect your assets with the proper marriage regime

  • prenuptial agreement
Published on 2024-04-19 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
Before enjoying the happy life of an expatriate couple, there might be a few administrative issues to check out. Have both spouses drawn up a prenuptial agreement? Is there a risk that the matrimonial property regime will change with the international move? These questions are even more critical if you have your own assets. Here's an overview of matrimonial property regimes around the world.

Matrimonial regimes around the world

There are 5 main types of matrimonial regimes: deferred community of property, separate property, community reduced to acquests, participation in acquests, and separation with distribution by the court.

Deferred community of property

The deferred community of property regime means that spouses hold all movable and immovable property jointly before and during the marriage. Denmark, Finland, and Colombia are among the countries that have applied this basic rule.

Separation of property

Separation of property allows each spouse to keep their own property during the marriage. In the event of divorce, each spouse keeps their property intact. Many countries, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Gabon, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Morocco, Senegal, Singapore and the Bahamas, have adopted this system.

Reduced community of acquests

The reduced community of acquests preserves the spouses' assets before marriage. Each spouse retains their own movable and immovable property. After the marriage, the acquired property and income become joint property to be divided between the spouses. This system has also been adopted in many countries, including Argentina, Angola, Mexico, Thailand, Ukraine, France, the Philippines, Portugal, Ivory Coast and Brazil.

Partnership of acquests

Partnership of acquests is a combination of reduced community of acquests and separation of property. During the marriage, the separation of property regime prevails. In the event of divorce, the reduced community of acquests regime applies. Taiwan, Turkey, Germany, and Greece are among the countries that have applied the community of acquest regime.

Judicial separation 

The judicial separation regime allows each spouse to keep their property during the marriage. In the event of divorce, the court determines and distributes the property between the spouses. The United States (except for certain American states), Canada (except for Quebec, which applies community of property), Australia and New Zealand apply this system.

How important is a prenuptial agreement when planning to move abroad?

In Abu Dhabi, prenuptial agreements are pretty common. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is continuing its legal and other reforms to attract more expatriates. These reforms guarantee protection for all UAE residents, regardless of origin or religion. In December 2021, Abu Dhabi established its Civil Family Court to address the situation of expatriate couples. In just 7 months, some 250 prenup agreements had been signed. Some are from wealthy expatriates who want to protect their assets. It's worth noting that in 2023, the UAE had a record of 4,500 new millionaires. While the country appeals to the wealthiest, prenuptial agreements affect everyone and are directly linked to marriage.

Prenuptial agreements have gained popularity because they guarantee that spouses maintain their matrimonial property regime, especially when moving abroad. In the absence of a prenuptial agreement, the matrimonial property regime of the couple's country of first residence will apply. This means that a change of matrimonial regime may not be appropriate for the expatriate couple (especially in the event of separation). If the spouses are of the same nationality and move abroad after their marriage, the matrimonial property regime will depend on their nationality.

Protecting the assets of expatriate spouses

The marriage contract is a legal document jointly signed by the spouses, which defines the regime applicable to the expat couple. It may contain specific clauses relating to the spouses, considering the law in force in the host country. The marriage contract can be drawn up before or after the wedding and can be modified during the marriage.

In practice, the prenuptial agreement determines the rules that will apply to the couple's property after the marriage. It provides for various situations, such as divorce, bankruptcy, death, indebtedness, etc. The issue of divorce can be particularly sensitive for expats, as several jurisdictions may be competent: that of the country of residence or that of the spouses' nationality (if they have different nationalities). Although it may seem strange to talk about divorce before marriage, keep in mind that the marriage contract is drawn up to protect both parties, whatever the outcome of their union. That is why it is essential to draw it up when everything is going well and with the help of a competent legal authority.