Expats living in Costa Rica may be interested to know that certain foreign judgments are enforceable in Costa Rica by means of a process called an exequatur. Going through the process to get an exequatur can mean collecting monies due when they were otherwise lost or collecting child support from a deadbeat spouse hiding in this country.
The court here can even order judicial liens over assets — called embargos in Costa Rica — to protect assets in this country during litigation in another country.
An exequatur, which is the same word in English or Spanish, is a judgment or other legal act issued by a Costa Rican court that states that a decision issued by a foreign court is legally executable or enforceable in this country. The Sala Primera of the Corte Suprema de Justicia — the first division of the supreme court of Costa Rica — decides what foreign judgments are legal here and which ones are not. The articles governing this process can be found in the civil procedural code, articles 705 through 708.
This is how they work:
Once a foreign judgment is obtained in another country, the interested party represented by a lawyer in Costa Rica petitions the Sala I to enforce it in Costa Rica. The court here does not re-try the case, it just approves or denies the exequatur. The lawyer must supply the following information to the court:
1.) The judgment from the foreign court translated and authenticated,
2.) Proof the defendant was properly served with the legal action or declared en rebelde — not locatable or in hiding — in accordance with the laws of the country from which the case originates,
3.) Proof the defendant was properly served with the final judgment,
4.) Evidence the legal matter is not exclusively a Costa Rican one,
5.) Proof the judgment is enforceable in the country from which it comes,
6.) A document showing that the judgment is not against Costa Rica law.
Exequaturs can be broken down into two major types: 1.) Exequaturs of private interest and 2.) formal requests from a foreign court for assistance in a legal matter also known as letters rogatory.
Most private interest exequaturs have to do with family matters. 95 percent of them have to do with divorce or approving other martial affairs. The other 5 percent have to do with adoption or childcare, like child support.
Here is an interesting example of an exequatur sought and granted in Costa Rica:
A Costa Rican woman and a Japanese man were married in Alajuela on Oct. 28, 1978. The marriage was properly registered in the national civil registry in this country.
A divorce by mutual consent is not difficult to obtain in Japan. The parties presented themselves in front of the mayor of Kanagawa, Japan in 2003 and requested a divorce. He granted the divorce, and they just had to sign in his book to make it legal.
In 2005, they filed for an exequatur in Costa Rica to recognize the divorce. The Sala I granted their request in November of the same year stating they followed the correct procedure in Japan to divorce and it should be upheld in Costa Rica because the act did not violate any Costa Rican laws. The court ordered the exequatur which meant registering the divorce with the civil registry here.
Another example is an adoption case. An expat man took his wife and her child to the United States so he could adopt the child because the process is easier there. He obtained the adoption and filed for an exequatur in Costa Rica. It was granted, saving a couple of years of court proceedings in this country to accomplish the same task.
In other cases of divorce and adoption, the actions were denied and no exequatur was issued because the situations were not consistent with Costa Rican law. In one example, a divorce was granted in Nicaragua where the woman was not properly considered in the action. The Sala I denied the exequatur to register the divorce in Costa Rica because in this country the two parties to a divorce have a say. Unilateral divorces are not permitted here.
Letters rogatory usually pertain to process service, taking in evidence, and in Costa Rica attaching assets with judicial liens while a legal process is going on.
Many attorneys do not know how to use the power of letters rogatory. This includes attorneys in Costa Rica and other countries. Letters rogatory are governed by Inter-American Convention on Letters Rogatory of which Costa Rica is a signatory. The text of the convention can be found at this link.
Court settlements and arbitration judgments are also enforceable using exequaturs. The law in Costa Rica supports out-of-court settlements strongly, and in the case of an out-of-court settlement from another country where there are assets in Costa Rica, an exequatur can be sought to collect if the settlement or judgment does not violate Costa Rican law.
Many foreigners while living in Costa Rica believe they are untouchable from the laws of their home countries. Some are running away from debts, wives, and child support payments. The truth is, some of the bad deeds from home can follow a foreigner to Costa Rica and legally be enforced by the authorities here.