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Expats risk half their assets with lengthy love nest

by Garland M Baker on February 25, 2008

This is how to trap an expat into marriage, a big payoff or a lifetime of alimony payments. It is not just a woman’s guide, but as public service to men and even expat women to save them from themselves in Costa Rica.

Many men come here to play around with women. Many of them are married in their home country, and they come here because playful women are plentiful and they seriously believe their wives will not catch them. Others are here because no other women will have them. A smaller number of women are in the same categories, but the sex most affected is male.

In Costa Rica, the one-sided laws favoring women get men into trouble and they usually do not even know they are in trouble until it is way too late. “Some women swindle with domestic violence law” and “Judges are a girl’s best friend when extortion’s afoot,” cover some of the ramifications of living with a woman in Costa Rica.

However, many have asked what constitutes a legal marriage in this country when two people live together. The answer is a surprise and so are the repercussions:

Here are two phrases every expat should know. “Union libre” means living together. In the 1960s it was called “living in sin.” Today such a state is called “committed relationship of mutual interdependence.” Costa Rica law upgrades two persons living together for three years to a “union de hecho” or union in fact. This means they are living together as if they were a married couple. In some parts of the United States, living in a committed relationship of mutual interdependence for six months designates two people as domestic partners. In Costa Rica, if two people live together for two years where one is 100 percent dependent on the other, the law states the dependant has rights to some type of financial support after a breakup. This has been true for some time, and many people do not know it. Constitutional Vote 0346-94 overturned as unconstitutional Article 49 of the Rules for Disability, Old Age and Death where children were a prerequisite for one party to obtain benefits and rights in a relationship of less than three years. Now offspring are not necessary.

In other words, expats who pay for their partner’s every whim are making a big mistake. Paying for everything makes the other member of the relationship a dependent, and the fine line between “union libre” and “union de hecho” narrows dramatically.

Girlfriends living as a dependent or past the magic threshold of three years of living in “union libre” can file a simple court case against their boyfriend to have the court determine them legally married. Once the case is decided, the woman can ask the court to validate their right to their mate’s assets. The rule of thumb is a 50-50 split of everything they can get their hands on or know about. If the man disagrees, the court will auction off everything and split up the dough.

The dependent partner can file an action up to two years after a breakup.

Some expats believe they are safe if they do not cross the three-year mark and they can do anything they wish. This is not true at all. They are damned from the outset in Costa Rica with many different laws a woman can use to hog tie a man and skin him financially.

What is really scary, and expat men need to listen up to save themselves from a big faux pas, the domestic violence law makes no distinction between “union libre,” or “union de hecho.” The law just refers to a relationship — any relationship no matter how short.
Gay activists in Costa Rica are petitioning the legislature to revalue the whole law regarding “union de hecho.” They want the time reduced dramatically in determining domestic partnerships following the examples of the United States and other parts of the world.

Instead of living together without a plan and eventual getting skinned, expats in Costa Rica could follow a new plan: They could exercise a little discipline in a relationship. And it would not be a bad idea to keep quiet about major assets outside the country.

If a man insists on getting romantically involved with a woman in Costa Rica, it is better to date someone with her own life and a real income — the emphasis here is on “real” — than a person that will be totally dependent. And those wealthy expat women who find Costa Rican boyfriends should also follow this rule.

An expat should wait a prudent time before thinking of marriage or moving in with a partner. Before marriage, an expat should sit down with a legal professional and draw up a prenuptial agreement with the proposed partner to protect assets.

Article 37 of the Family Law 5476 regulates these agreements between men and women in this country. Preparing a prenuptial agreement is done before or during a marriage outlining the distribution of past, current and future assets of the parties to the marriage.

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