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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Destination Divorces

Destination weddings are still popular with many couples, but how many “destination divorces” do you hear about?  I’d venture to say not too many.

If you happen to get divorced in a foreign country, does the United States recognizes that divorce as valid?  The answer is:  it depends.  The United States Supreme Court has long asserted that if the individual had the right to a fair trial, without prejudice or fraud, had the right to be present, and the “system of jurisprudence [was] likely to secure an impartial administration of justice between the citizens of its own country and those of other countries,” the judgment would be given comity.  Hilton v Guyot, 159 US 113 (1895).

The Michigan Court of Appeals echoed this position in Dart v Dart, opining that if the parties were afforded due process, present in court and had a hearing on the merits of the case, the judgment would be upheld.  Dart v Dart, 224 Mich App 146, 155 (1997).

In the 2009 unpublished case of Tarikonda v Pinjari, Michigan Court of Appeals Docket #287403, the Michigan Court of Appeals was faced with the question of whether or not to uphold an Indian divorce.  The parties were married in India and had one child born in the United States.  They resided in Michigan for about two years.  When the parties separated, the wife stayed in Michigan and the husband moved to New Jersey. 

Shortly after separating, the husband secured a divorce by traveling to India.  Pursuant to Indian law, a husband can actually divorce his wife by pronouncing that he divorces her three times.  This is called the “triple talaq.”  Pinjari did just that in his written triple talaq, and received a divorce certificate.  Just think, if this kind of quick and easy divorce were allowed in the United States, I’d be out of a job.

Tarikonda filed for divorce in Michigan a month after her husband received the Indian divorce.  The lower court granted the husband’s request to dismiss the Michigan divorce complaint on the basis that the couple was already divorced in India.  Tarikonda was told to register the Indian divorce in Michigan and she could pursue custody and support in a separate complaint.

Tarikonda appealed on the position that the Indian divorce should not have been given comity as it “is violative of due process and contrary to public policy.”
The Court of Appeals agreed with Tarikonda, noting that she was denied due process as she had no notice of the triple talaq and was not given the right to be present or have an attorney.  Further, this type of divorce denies women equal protection as they cannot pronounce a triple talaq on their husbands and receive a divorce.  The lack of an equitable property division was also contrary to Michigan law.

The lesson to be learned from this case:  don’t get a destination divorce in a country where you can simply say you’re divorced three times and it becomes true.  That only works if you’re wearing ruby slippers and click your heels.

Keeping Secrets Pays

Confidentiality is a common theme throughout the legal world, and for good reason.  The most recognized example of this is the fact that conversations between attorney and client are privileged and held confidential, which you would think promotes an open and honest relationship between the two, but that is not always the case (read:  clients lie, despite the fact that you can’t tell anyone what they say).

In family law, many settlement agreements are kept out of the public file, especially in high profile cases, so that the privacy of the divorcing couple and their family is held intact.  In a world outside of family law – GASP!  There is such a thing? – when resolutions are reached behind closed doors, those involved are often held to confidentiality agreements so that no one knows what really happened or how much was awarded.  Lawsuits are often publically humiliating for corporations and individuals; naturally, the PR people want to minimize any potential damage to the extent possible.  Many people assume that the higher the monetary award, the more truth there was to the allegation that brought the lawsuit in the first place.

This type of confidential agreement was brought to light in Florida for the Snay family.  Patrick Snay sued his former employer, Gulliver Preparatory School, claiming age discrimination when he was not brought back on board to head the school.  The school and Snay eventually reached an agreement – meant to be confidential – where Snay would receive $80,000 as a settlement, in addition to $10,000 in wages and $60,000 for his attorneys.  The agreement did allow exceptions to the confidentiality so that Snay and his wife could speak to his attorneys and other “professional advisors.”

Unfortunately, Snay decided to let his daughter in on the secret, claiming that she was entitled to know “something” due to the fact that she was involved in the family ordeal and had needed therapy.  This probably wouldn’t have been a big deal, except that Snay’s daughter posted a little something on her Face Book page, which just so happened to have 1,200 individuals following it (and I thought I was doing good with 420 friends):  “Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver.  Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer.  SUCK IT.”

Gulliver Preparatory Schools was less than impressed and refused to fork over the $80,000, based on a breach of the confidentiality agreement.  Various court hearings and appeals were held, but Gulliver prevailed in the end.

I wonder if Snay’s darling daughter still got to go on that European vacation.