Tag Archives: bureaucracy

Divorce, Brazilian Style

Never throw the key away!

Never throw the key away!

In my recent post “Playing by the Rules and Rueing It,” I mentioned that I got married to stay in Brazil as a legal resident. I was in a committed relationship, but marriage was against my philosophy. And, as it turned out, it was entirely unnecessary. If I had only known how hard it would be to get a contested (non-consensual) divorce…

When my marriage was no longer bearable; when I finally managed to overcome the inertia, gain momentum and break free, I found myself in a legal maze that would have made Kafka laugh.

First, under Brazilian law, I had to say that I left my husband because I was in fear of my life to avoid being charged with “abandoning the home” (abandono do lar) and losing custody of my daughter. Luckily (?) he actually had threatened to kill me – when I told him I’d slap him if he ever belted our daughter again. That remark was the death knell of our marriage. When we sat before the police officer who was taking our statements, he countered that I had threatened him too, as I’d told him that if he ever hit me, I’d pour boiling water in his ear when he was sleeping. All true, though it was mentioned as an anecdote (advice my mother gave me), not uttered as a threat. The female police officer looked knowingly at the female clerk and I realised that he had merely confirmed that I was under threat of physical violence, if not death. First step towards freedom – check.

Then I had to hire a lawyer. I turned to the foster mother of a friend of my adopted daughter and paid her R$1,000 up front (a considerable sum in those days). After a while – was it years? – the process stalled, and eventually the lawyer moved to another state, handing my case over to a colleague, and…nothing happened. I was separated but nowhere near divorced – languishing in marital limbo.

Finally, I came across another lawyer, who told me that my divorce proceedings had probably been “filed in a drawer” at the request of my husband’s uncle/attorney – the unscrupulous jailhouse kind. Fortunately, my new acquaintance knew someone at the notary’s office that had “filed” the proceedings and got them “unfiled.” On both sides, it was all about whom you knew. So far so good – what a relief! Months later, I received word that the divorce had gone through. Free at last…or was I?

One or two years down the line, when I wanted to travel abroad with my daughter, I needed her father’s authorisation, as she was still a minor. We both had to be present, and the official asked us if we had a divorce certificate. A what?? My elder daughter checked into it and found that I would have to go to several notary’s offices – all housed in the same courthouse by that time – to get the right stamps and signatures. Finally, my marriage certificate had a big stamp on the back saying the divorce had been finalised.

Oh by the way, I don’t think my ex ever knew that I managed to push the divorce through. I don’t believe he’ll read this, since he never learned English, but if anyone wants to tell him, feel free…

Playing by the rules and rueing it

6 months

Happily pregnant, at 6 months, I had no idea that it was my ‘bump’ that would get me over the ‘hump’  and make me an official resident alien in Brazil. 

When I arrived in Brazil, I had a three-month tourist visa and no intention of overstaying. By the time the three months were up, I had decided to stay, and my Brazilian friends told me not to worry when it expired, since that would happen on Fat Tuesday. “Just tell them it was Carnival! They’ll understand.”

Carnival came and went, and then I was told that I should wait until a “friendly” federal policeman returned from holiday. I waited a few more weeks, and there was no sign of him. Finally I decided to fling myself on the mercy of the immigration office, which was run by the fearsome Federal Police (note that this was shortly after the end of the dictatorship, when they had had a hand in torture and “disappearing” people, and that mentality still lingered), and found no sympathy at all. I was fingerprinted for the first time in my life – with black ink – fined and given a few days to leave the country.

Fortunately, a friend lent me the money for a plane ticket, for there were no buses available at such short notice. I paid the fine and headed for Paraguay to renew my visa. In those days, that was possible. If it had happened nowadays, I would have had to return to my home country. That gave me another three months, renewable in Brazil for another three, after which I would once again have to go to Paraguay. I enjoyed the beautiful blue butterflies at Iguaçu Falls, crossed the Friendship Bridge on the Paraguayan border, got my visa renewed and headed back to Salvador, Bahia.

By the time I was due to travel to Paraguay for the second time, I was engaged to be married. Normally, I would not have done so, since it was against my philosophy, but since I was in a committed relationship and it seemed to be the only way to become a legal resident, I decided to tie the noose, erm, knot. Before I left, I had a divination reading done – a consultation with the cowries – and all sorts of negative portents appeared. “Work” was done to protect me and I set off on my own, this time by plane to Sao Paulo and bus from there to the triple border region where I would once again cross the bridge and briefly enter Paraguay. The first time I had done it, I had walked across, done some shopping and walked back before I realised that the most important thing was missing – a stamp in my passport! I then had to go back and sit in the Paraguay immigration office, where men in dark sunglasses scrutinised my documents, gave me the stamp – for a fee – and watched me head back across the bridge to their Brazilian counterpart, which looked for all the world like a toll booth.

The first time, I had got my stamp and headed back home. This time, however, the computer said I couldn’t re-enter because I hadn’t paid the fine levied when I overstayed my visa. But I had paid it! Unfortunately, I had left the receipt behind in Salvador. For the Federal Police, the computer was never wrong, so I wandered disconsolately back to my hotel, and listened to pigeons (doves?) rustling and cooing outside my hotel window over the course of a sleepless night. Later I was told that was a blessing. Fortunately, the Federal Police officer I saw the next morning allowed me to re-enter the country officially, but just for three days! Enough time to go home, fetch the receipt and take it to the local immigration office so they could renew my visa for another three months. Three months and three days instead of six months to plan the wedding and, of course, get married!

When I arrived at the Federal Police office in Salvador, receipt in hand, the officer – the same one who had had me fined and fingerprinted – was very understanding. He told me to go to the bank where I had paid the fine to get the receipt officialised. I did, but when I returned to the policeman with the proper stamps, I realised that his supposed understanding had masked utter disbelief. He clearly thought I had either bribed someone at the bank or forged the stamp, because he rushed off with the paper in hand to see for himself. Some time later, he returned and admitted that, this time, the computer really had made a mistake. I got my three months, got married, and was at least spared the need to make a third visit to Paraguay. So far so good, and I was still perfectly legal.

Fast forward about a year. I was nine months pregnant. An amnesty programme was in effect for illegal aliens. When I visited the Federal Police to see about applying for permanent residence, I was advised to apply for amnesty! “But, but, I’m not here illegally, never have been,” I stammered. “It’s easier for us if we do it that way.” And then, looking at my belly: “How far along are you?” When I told the officer, he gave me a form to fill out and sign, stamped it, and told me that that should suffice. It did. Because I was having a baby in Brazil. There had been no need to get married at all, except to give my child my surname…

After making every effort to play by the rules, I finished up getting the same treatment that every illegal immigrant received when they even remotely qualified for residency. That was typical of my experience in Brazil – play by the rules and rue it. I’m not advocating unlawful behaviour, certainly not malandragembut it did make me understand why Brazilians tend to view the law as a “guideline” and invented the jeitinho brasileiro.

Forging through the Red-Tape Jungle in Bahia

I need an international driving license and have been putting it off for years. When I finally get around to it, it becomes a Kafkaesque comedy. Of sorts. I’ll laugh about it one day!

Here’s how it’s been going so far…

Day 1 

Today I went to the Brazilian equivalent of the DVLA/DMV and had to queue to get a number, only to be told that I didn’t need one – I just had to talk to the man standing next to me, who was helping a little old lady and taking a very long time. When he was finally free (and there was already someone behind me in the no-number queue), he told me to go to desk X and say M___ sent me, only to be told that I was in the wrong place – they didn’t issue what I wanted there, and I had to go to their outlet at the Citizens Service Centre (SAC) in a nearby shopping mall, where I was told that I didn’t have all the documents I needed, so I went home and will try again tomorrow…

Day 2

It seems to be a guideline for bureaucrats (unwritten, I hope), even if their job is supposedly to make services more efficient – the whole point of the Citizens Service Centre – that they must always hold back at least one piece of vital information. Yesterday, I was told that I needed a document I had not been informed about when I checked the requirements online. Could be I’d missed it, so no worries, here it is. Then I was told that I also needed to provide black and white photocopies of all documents (fortunately available for an exorbitant price in the mall). No worries, done in a flash. Finally, when I returned with the copies, I was asked if I knew how much it cost! “Erm, has it gone up much? It used to be R$80…” “It went up in March – now it’s R$520! Oh, and there’s another thing – you can’t just bring a 3×4 cm photo any more. It’s all computerised…and the computer isn’t working.” “Any idea when it will be up and running?” “Nope!” “Can you give me a number so I can find out if it’s working or do I have to come by in person again?” “Come by in person! If we gave out our number we’d do nothing but answer the phone all day!” Hoping the third time will be the charm… (By the way, the dialogue was summarised and involved more than one interlocutor – in case it seemed it was that easy to get all the information required!)

Day 3

The third day was definitely the charm. I have just confirmed hat I don’t need an international driving license in the UK. My Brazilian one will do nicely for up to a year. Just shows that greed doesn’t pay. I would happily have paid R$80 but R$520 gave me pause! Now I find that I don’t have to pay anything…for now. (If anyone knows differently, please tell me!)