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Robison v. Robison

Decided: April 28, 1952.


On appeal from the Superior Court, Chancery Division.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld and Burling. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Oliphant, J.


[9 NJ Page 289] The essential questions presented by this appeal are whether the provisions for alimony contained in a Florida decree of divorce are within the full faith and credit clause of the Federal Constitution and whether the

courts of this State have jurisdiction to change such alimony provisions, Florida having had jurisdiction of the parties and issues in the proceeding there.

The appeal is from an order of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court denying defendant's motion to dismiss the action. The appeal, taken to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, has been certified here on our own motion.

The complaint alleges the parties were married in September, 1939, and that on March 11, 1945, the plaintiff separated from the defendant because of his extreme cruelty toward her. On June 12 of that year she instituted suit for divorce in Dade County, Florida. The defendant appeared and by answer admitted the jurisdictional facts alleged in the complaint but denied the extreme cruelty charges. A final decree of divorce was granted on July 9, 1945, after final hearing, both parties being present and represented by counsel. The decree provided that the bonds of matrimony be dissolved and directed the defendant to pay the plaintiff as alimony for her support and maintenance the sum of $28,600, of which $4,000 was to be paid three days after the decree and the balance at the rate of $200 a month, and that the obligation to make all payments should not be affected by the remarriage of the plaintiff; further, that the obligation of the defendant would be a charge against his estate in the event of his death.

The complaint asserts that the alimony and support provisions of the Florida decree were entered in accordance with an agreement entered into between the parties by way of settlement and that she, the plaintiff, is not bound thereby because she was coerced and compelled to execute it. The plaintiff admits that the agreement was merged into the divorce decree itself but says that as to future alimony it is subject to modification by court order in the courts of Florida pursuant to its laws, and that it therefore is not a final judgment so as to be entitled to full faith and credit under the Federal Constitution, Art. IV, sec. 1. She further alleges she is now without sufficient and adequate funds to

maintain herself in accordance with the station of life to which she was accustomed prior to the divorce, and that the defendant has adequate funds to so provide her. She does not allege defendant's financial status has changed since the entry of the Florida decree and admits the financial provisions of that decree have been thus far complied with.

The defendant moved to dismiss the instant complaint on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the action because the Florida decree was protected by the full faith and credit clause of the Federal Constitution; that the plaintiff claimed jurisdiction in this State by virtue of R.S. 2:50-37 and relied on the validity of the Florida decree so far as it granted the divorce, but challenged that portion of it awarding alimony; and that when a decree of alimony is res adjudicata in another jurisdiction the courts of this State have no jurisdiction to alter or change its terms.

Before us the defendant first contends that the Florida decree must be granted full faith and credit in its entirety in this State. We agree that this is sound insofar as it applies to that part of the decree severing the bonds of matrimony. The defendant appeared in the action and it is not alleged that any fraud was perpetrated upon the Florida court with respect to the jurisdictional requirements. Shearer v. Shearer, 334 U.S. 343, 68 S. Ct. 1087, 92 L. Ed. 1429; Coe v. Coe, 334 U.S. 378, 68 S. Ct. 1094, 92 L. Ed. 1451. As to the alimony provisions of the decree the solution of that question, as to whether or not it is entitled to full faith and credit, depends upon whether or not it has the requisite finality to so entitle it. Sistare v. Sistare, 218 U.S. 1, 30 S. Ct. 682, 54 L. Ed. 905; Barber v. Barber, 323 U.S. 77, 65 S. Ct. 137, 89 L. Ed. 82 (1944); Sutton v. Leib, 342 U.S. 402, 72 S. Ct. 398, 96 L. Ed. ; Conwell v. Conwell, 3 N.J. 266 (1949); Frank v. Frank, 7 N.J. 225 (1951).

We are dealing here, not with past due payments under a decree of the State of Florida providing for alimony. It is clear and we so determined in Conwell v. Conwell, supra, that the law ...

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