When buying property in Thailand as a foreigner many expats buy the house or villa in the name of their wife and register a usufruct over the property in their name. They do this so that in the event of a divorce they will still be able to live in the house. The usufruct also gives them leverage during a divorce as it is very difficult to sell a house with a usufruct registered over it.
The usufruct in Thailand is primarily the right to use property which belongs to someone else and to receive the benefits of the property. One good example is where instead of buying the land you buy a usufruct over a property and continue to grow rubber plantations on it. The land still belongs to the owner but the plantation benefits comes to you. Since it is very difficult for foreigners to buy land in their name in Thailand this is one of the many options used. Note that foreigners are not allowed to farm in Thailand and it is a prohibited profession for expats.
The Usufruct is normally registered to a maximum of 30 years however in the event that you should die before the 30 years lapse the usufruct usually comes to an end. Many expats tend to place the usufruct in the name of themselves as well as their wife for this reason. In the event of your death the usufruct is still valid for your wife. Note that when you have a usufruct over any real estate you are then also responsible to maintaining the property. If the property is not maintained and damages occur then the property owner can have the usufruct cancelled and file for damages.
Of interest is that most usufructs in Thailand tend to be registered in the name of a foreigner as a security in the event of a divorce from his Thai wife. There are many options with regards to protecting your property in Thailand. The usufruct is but only one option in protecting your property as there is also a prenuptial agreement option. More expats also opt for a superficies in Thailand which may be a better option. Speak to a lawyer in Thailand for more information and assistance.
Usufructs during a divorce gives you a better option when it comes to negotiating a settlement. As stated nobody will buy property with a usufruct over it. There was a well noted case in Thailand a few years ago where during a divorce a foreigner married to a Thai also used his usufruct to hold onto his property. His ex-wife then decided to force all her relatives into the house and to occupy it illegally with him still in it. This made the Thai local newspapers as violence erupted during this occupation and the ensuing standoff with police.
The usufruct during a divorce is a good form of leverage but as can be seen by what has happened before in Thailand it is not a clear cut solution for property investments or securing your rights during a divorce. Always take legal advice in this regard.