Sunday, February 19, 2006

Case Law Development: New Hampshire Court says Telling Wife Three Times “I Divorce You” Did Not Initiate Divorce Proceeding

On Tuesday, the New Hampshire Supreme Court rejected the argument of Samer Ramadan that he had initiated divorce proceedings in Lebanon by telling his wife three times, “I divorce you” and calling an attorney in Lebanon and declaring over the telephone to two witnesses that he had divorced his wife. The ruling arose out of a dispute involving a couple who married in Tripoli, Lebanon in 1986 and have three children. Prior to their marriage, the wife, represented by her father, entered into a “marriage contract” promising a deferred “dower” payment of 250,000 Lebanese liras. The husband was, at the time, a resident of the United States, and the couple settled in Massachusetts. During the marriage they lived in Texas, Lebanon, Egypt, and settled in New Hampshirein 1999.

The husband claimed that one day before his wife filed for divorce in New Hampshire in 2003 that he initiated a divorce under Islamic law by declaring, “I divorce you” three times in succession in her presence. He also claimed that he telephoned an attorney in Lebanon on the same day and declared, with two witnesses listening, that he had divorced his wife. In October he traveled to Lebanon to see his attorney and sign the necessary divorce papers.

In rejecting the husband’s challenge to the New Hampshire divorce decree, the court said that the record showed that the parties were both domiciled in New Hampshire when the divorce action was commenced in October, 2003 by his wife in that state, and had been so for at least three years. It went on to explain that although the trial court properly exercised jurisdiction over the parties’ divorce, this alone would not preclude another forum from doing the same. However, under New Hampshire law, “a divorce obtained in another jurisdiction shall be of no force or effect in this state . . . if both parties to the marriage were domiciled in this state at the time the proceeding for the divorce was commenced.” Consequently, because the parties had been domiciled in New Hampshire for at least three years when the divorce action was commenced by the wife, the Lebanese divorce decree proffered by the husband had no force or effect in that state under its family law statute, RSA 459:1, regardless of its validity in Lebanon. You may download the New Hampshire Supreme Court slip opinion, In_re_Ramadan.pdf here (reo).

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