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The effect of domicile on legal relations & duties

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  • Legalbear
    [15] Under our system of law, judicial power to grant a divorce -- jurisdiction, strictly speaking -- is founded on domicil. Bell v. Bell, 181 U.S. 175;
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 5, 2010
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      [15]        Under our system of law, judicial power to grant a divorce -- jurisdiction, strictly speaking -- is founded on domicil. Bell v. Bell, 181 U.S. 175; Andrews v. Andrews, 188 U.S. 14. The framers of the Constitution were familiar with this jurisdictional prerequisite, and since 1789 neither this Court nor any other court in the English-speaking world has questioned it. Domicil implies a nexus between person and place of such permanence as to control the creation of legal relations and responsibilities of the utmost significance. The domicil of one spouse within a State gives power to that State, we have held, to dissolve a marriage wheresoever contracted. In view of Williams v. North Carolina, supra, the jurisdictional requirement of domicil is freed from confusing refinements about "matrimonial domicil," see Davis v. Davis, 305 U.S. 32, 41, and the like. Divorce, like marriage, is of concern not merely to the immediate parties. It affects personal rights of the deepest significance. It also touches basic interests of society. Since divorce, like marriage, creates a new status, every consideration of policy makes it desirable that the effect should be the same wherever the question arises.

       

      In Williams v. North Carolina, 1945.SCT.40683 <http://www.versuslaw.com>¶ 16; 325 U.S. 226 (1945) the Court gives us a snapshot understanding of the effect of domicile:

       

      [16]        It is one thing to reopen an issue that has been settled after appropriate opportunity to present their contentions has been afforded to all who had an interest in its adjudication. This applies also to jurisdictional questions. After a contest these cannot be relitigated as between the parties. Forsyth v. Hammond, 166 U.S. 506, 517; Chicago Life Ins. Co. v. Cherry, 244 U.S. 25, 30; Davis v. Davis, supra. But those not parties to a litigation ought not to be foreclosed by the interested actions of others; especially not a State which is concerned with the vindication of its own social policy and has no means, certainly no effective means, to protect that interest against the selfish action of those outside its borders. The State of domiciliary origin should not be bound by an unfounded, even if not collusive, recital in the record of a court of another State. As to the truth or existence of a fact, like that of domicil, upon which depends the power to exert judicial authority, a State not a party to the exertion of such judicial authority in another State but seriously affected by it has a right, when asserting its own unquestioned authority, to ascertain the truth or existence of that crucial fact.*fn6 These considerations of policy are equally applicable whether power was assumed by the court of the first State or claimed after inquiry. This may lead, no doubt, to conflicting determinations of what judicial power is founded upon. Such conflict is inherent in the practical application of the concept of domicil in the context of our federal system.*fn7 See Worcester County Co. v. Riley, 302 U.S. 292; Texas v. Florida, 306 U.S. 398; District of Columbia v. Murphy, 314 U.S. 441. What was said in Worcester County Co. v. Riley, supra, is pertinent here. "Neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor the full faith and credit clause requires uniformity in the decisions of the courts of different states as to the place of domicil, where the exertion of state power is dependent upon domicil within its boundaries." 302 U.S. 292, 299. If a finding by the court of one State that domicil in another State has been abandoned were conclusive upon the old domiciliary State, the policy of each State in matters of most intimate concern could be subverted by the policy of every other State. This Court has long ago denied the existence of such destructive power. The issue has a far reach. For domicil is the foundation of probate jurisdiction precisely as it is that of divorce. The ruling in Tilt v. Kelsey, 207 U.S. 43, regarding the probate of a will, is equally applicable to a sister-State divorce decree: "the full faith and credit due to the proceedings of the New Jersey court do not require that the courts of New York shall be bound by its adjudication on the question of domicil. On the contrary, it is open to the courts of any State in the trial of a collateral issue to determine upon the evidence produced the true domicil of the deceased." 207 U.S. 43, 53. Although it is now settled that a suit for divorce is not an ordinary adversary proceeding, it does not promote analysis, as was recently pointed out, to label divorce proceedings as actions in rem. Williams v. North Carolina, supra, at 297. But insofar as a divorce decree partakes of some of the characteristics of a decree in rem, it is misleading to say that all the world is party to a proceeding in rem. See Brigham v. Fayerweather, 140 Mass. 411, 413, 5 N. E. 265, quoted in Tilt v. Kelsey, supra, at 52. All the world is not party to a divorce proceeding. What is true is that all the world need not be present before a court granting the decree and yet it must be respected by the other forty-seven States provided -- and it is a big proviso -- the conditions for the exercise of power by the divorce-decreeing court are validly established whenever that judgment is elsewhere called into question. In short, the decree of divorce is a conclusive adjudication of everything except the jurisdictional facts upon which it is founded, and domicil is a jurisdictional fact. To permit the necessary finding of domicil by one State to foreclose all States in the protection of their social institutions would be intolerable.

       

       

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