Divorces Obtained in Other Jurisdictions

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 What is Divorce?

Divorce is a dissolution of a legal marriage. Either spouse can seek divorce and apply for its termination. All states have grounds and residency requirements for filing for divorce. Divorce deals with issues such as marital property and alimony. If there are children in the marriage, issues regarding child support, custody, and visitation will arise.

Across the states, there are different requirements for filing for divorce and what documents are needed. Recently, the majority of the process can be completed online. However, seeking professional legal counsel if needed in your case is recommended.

How Does the US Recognize Divorces Obtained in Other Jurisdictions?

The U.S. Federal Courts are permitted to adjudicate lawsuits between U.S. citizens and citizens of a foreign nation. It was created to protect the non-U.S. party from bias and to promote harmony between the United States and foreign nations. However, there are limitations to this power when it relates to domestic cases.

For instance, the Supreme Court has determined that federal courts cannot handle a domestic relations case dealing with issues such as divorce, alimony, and child custody. Therefore, when resolving divorce disputes, federal courts are not the proper forum to oversee these issues.

However, state courts do possess the power to resolve domestic issues. For instance, U.S. state courts can divorce a couple that was originally married abroad. So long as one of the spouses is a resident of the forum state at the time of the divorce. Therefore, when applied to international couples, there may be issues, especially if they are not U.S. citizens or green card holders. It won’t be easy for these couples to establish the domicile requirement for jurisdictional purposes.

Some states have a residency requirement to have jurisdiction in a particular state. However, not all states have a residency requirement, and it is important to research and determine the local state’s residency requirements for jurisdiction. These statutory requirements specify that even if one spouse has the durational residency requirement satisfied, the court can proceed with the case.

Furthermore, even after determining that residency and domiciled are satisfied in the case, minimum contacts are also considered. For personal jurisdiction, minimum contacts must be established for the case to proceed further. Depending on whether it is yes or no, the case can shift.

If the answer is no and the person is only seeking divorce and not trying to resolve financial matters, then the court can proceed. For example, if one spouse of the international couple moves to the U.S. and satisfies the domicile requirement. Then, they can obtain a divorce in the U.S. where they are domiciled, even if the other spouse never visited or came to the U.S. If the answer is yes, then the petitioner only has personal jurisdiction if there are minimum contacts in the state. In these circumstances, the petitioner is applying for monetary relief such as alimony, child support, or division of marital property.

Moreover, a court must have subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the case. For instance, this generally applies to custody issues in family law cases. The states decided on this ruling that child custody issues should be decided based on where the child resides, not where the parents are. But the court may have different variations of this, and it is important to look at the local state for more regulations.

What is the Choice of Law Regarding the Right to Divorce?

Once a state court has jurisdiction over the divorce case, it can proceed to resolve matters relating to it. For example, when it comes to the division of property, it can get complicated. It is important to note that American courts apply local state law regarding property acquisition regardless if it was owned or acquired overseas. Therefore, before seeking a judgment from local courts regarding your property division in divorce, it may be useful to look up some regulations regarding how marital property is dealt with in that particular state.

However, this means that all your property will be unjustly divided if you live abroad. One positive aspect is that the state forum’s law will govern the couple’s property. But, it may also encourage forum shopping and create conflicts. Not all states have the same approach; some states permit the application of the state’s law on which the party who acquired the property lived. Therefore, understanding how the choice of law impacts your divorce proceeding is crucial to highlight. This will ultimately impact how your case will turn out.

Although conveniently, the courts can apply several different jurisdiction laws to solve the property claims of the international couple, and it may make the task harder for the courts. Keep in mind that any property abroad during your marriage may not be divided according to your local state regulations.

Each state has different rules regarding marital property divisions, and comprehending this earlier in your case will save you the extra hassle of time and money. The American Bar Association suggested that scholars have discussed this topic and recommended that courts determine the couple’s marital property laws based on the last primary residential space they shared.

What About Divorces Adjudged in Foreign Countries?

For divorces with foreign country issues it must first be determined if the foreign decree goes against the local public policy in the state. Are there any residency requirements, and are there any grounds for divorce? For example, if there are no such conditions and the whole proceeding was conducted in a different language, it may not be acceptable in Massachusetts as divorce. However, these determinations would mostly depend on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, it is important to seek professional legal advice, especially if your entire divorce proceedings were conducted overseas.

Moreover, it is important to note that the couple cannot argue that the judgment in the foreign court was invalid because they believed in good faith that the divorce decree was indeed valid. This is the one exception to the abovementioned rule due to the estoppel doctrine. Therefore, even if the divorce proceedings are not similar to your local state’s policy, the parties may not later argue about the invalidity of the divorce.

What About Divorces Adjudged in Other (“Sister”) States?

The divorce adjudged in other sister states must be given their due. For instance, Massachusetts must accept a divorce decree of another state and give it full faith and credit if the sister state ruled that the petitioner was domiciled in that state.

However, if there are personal or subject matter jurisdiction issues, they most likely can be adjudicated again, depending on the case.

When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?

If you have a divorce decree from another jurisdiction and are concerned about its validity in your state, do not hesitate to contact a local divorce attorney in your area to assist you with the process. Your attorney can provide you with the guidance and representation needed for your legal issue. Also, they can help answer any questions or inquiries you may have during the legal process.

Lastly, if there are any changes to family laws, your lawyer can keep you informed so your legal rights are protected.


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