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In the 2009 unpublished case of Tarikonda v Pinjari, Michigan Court of Appeals Docket #287403, the Michigan Court of Appeals was faced with the question of whether or not to uphold an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.