Articles Tagged with Legal divorce

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Over the years, we have had many clients ask if a divorce that they obtained in foreign country will be recognized here in Maryland. The answer is yes, the divorce will be recognized in the United States, so long as the divorce was obtained by a Court that had authority to do so and the divorce was granted legally.  

In the Maryland case of Wolff v. Wolff, 40 Md. App. 168 (1978), the Appellate Court of Maryland (then called the Court of Special Appeals) determined that an English divorce decree was recognized in Maryland based on comity. The principle of comity allows judgments of courts in foreign countries to be recognized in the United States.  

In the Wolff case, the parties were divorced by an English court and Ms. Wolff was awarded alimony by the English divorce decree. A few years later, Ms. Wolff, who was still residing in London, filed a Complaint to Enforce Foreign Decree seeking to enforce the alimony provision of the English divorce decree in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, where Mr. Wolff resided. Mr. Wolff filed a preliminary objection, seeking to prevent the Maryland court from enforcing the English divorce decree by arguing that the Maryland court lacked jurisdiction. The circuit court agreed with Mr. Wolff and dismissed Ms. Wolff’s complaint. Ms. Wolff appealed, and the Appellate Court reversed the circuit’s court decision.  

The Appellate court stated that “a decree of divorce granted in one country by a court having jurisdiction to do so will be given full force and effect in another country by comity, not only as a decree determining status, but also with respect to an award of alimony and child support.” Wolff, 40 Md. App. at 168. 

 

However, there are some limitations to this doctrine. A foreign divorce will not be recognized where:  

  • The divorce was obtained by a procedure which denies due process of law;  
  • the divorce was obtained by fraud; 
  • the divorce offends the public policy of the state in which recognition is sought (examples of divorces which offend public policy include “mail-order divorces” obtained by nonresidents; and laws that allow a husband, but not a wife, to divorce without any sort of judicial process); or 
  • where the foreign court lacked jurisdiction.  

 

The Maryland case of Aleem v. Aleem, 404 Md. 404 (2008) illustrates a situation in which a foreign divorce is not afforded comity. In the Aleem case, Ms. Aleem filed for divorce in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. Mr. Aleem filed an Answer to Ms. Aleem’s Complaint and did not raise any jurisdictional objections. While the Montgomery County case was pending, Mr. Aleem, a national of Pakistan, performed talaq at the Pakistan Embassy. 

Talaq is a principle of Islamic law, adopted as the secular law of Pakistan, giving a husband the ability to divorce his wife by stating “I divorce thee” three times. The Supreme Court of Maryland (then called the Court of Appeals) refused to afford comity to Pakistani law, holding that Pakistani law offends the public policy of Maryland. Specifically, the Court held:  

 

The talaq divorce of countries applying Islamic law, unless substantially modified, is contrary to the public policy of this state and we decline to give talaq, as it is presented in this case, any comity. The Pakistani statutes providing that property owned by the parties to a marriage, follows title upon the dissolution of the marriage unless there are agreements otherwise, conflicts with the laws of this State where, in the absence of valid agreements otherwise or in the absence of waiver, marital property is subject to fair and equitable division. Thus the Pakistani statutes are wholly in conflict with the public policy of this State as expressed in our statutes and we shall afford no comity to those Pakistani statutes. Aleem, 404 Md. at 425.

 

The Aleem Court was also concerned with due process and took issue with the fact that talaq permitted the husband to terminate the marriage and deprive the wife of her rights to marital property without proper notice to the wife. 

The Aleem case represents a rare example of a foreign divorce decree not being afforded comity. Generally, foreign divorce decrees will be recognized in Maryland, provided that the foreign court had proper jurisdiction, the foreign divorce decree was supported by due process, and the foreign divorce does not offend the public policy of Maryland. 

 

For more information on foreign divorce in Maryland, or divorce in general, contact the Family Law Group at Silverman Thompson 

 

Monica L. Scherer, Esq. 

mscherer@silvermanthompson.com 

(410) 385-2225 

  

Joseph S. Stephan, Esq. 

jstephan@silvermanthompson.com 

(410) 385-2225 

  

Erin D. Brooks, Esq. 

ebrooks@silvermanthompson.com 

(410) 385-2225 

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