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Samuel v. McDaniel

Decided: December 4, 1969.

MARION EDWARDS SAMUEL, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
CARRIE MCDANIEL (ALSO KNOWN AS CARRIE SAMUEL), DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Goldmann, Lewis and Matthews. The opinion of the court was delivered by Lewis, J.A.D.

Lewis

Defendant Carrie McDaniel, also known as Carrie Samuel, appeals from judgments of the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Matrimonial Part, which respectively declared that (1) the 1955 State of South Carolina divorce decree granted to Henry Samuel, now deceased (herein Henry), from plaintiff Marion Edwards Samuel is null and void in New Jersey, and (2) plaintiff is entitled to an accounting for $4,339.49, United States Civil Service lump-sum retirement benefits, and $17,819, federal workmen's compensation benefits, which were paid to defendant as the widow of decedent.

Plaintiff challenges the foreign divorce and maintains that she is entitled to all government payments made to defendant as the widow of decedent.

These are the relevant facts. Henry and plaintiff were married in 1940 at Newark and established a marital residence in that city. No children were born of that union. Subsequently, Henry and defendant, a next-door neighbor, engaged in extramarital relations, and defendant bore him two children. In 1944 plaintiff moved with the assistance of her husband to Connecticut, where she has resided since that time. Henry, however, immediately returned to Newark and took up residence with defendant; in all they parented five children, one of whom died. It is plain from the record that plaintiff was aware that Henry and defendant cohabited as husband and wife and that they were raising a family.

In 1954, after the birth of the fourth child, Henry sued plaintiff for divorce in Colleton County, South Carolina, alleging the requisite one-year residency requirement. Plaintiff was not served with process in those proceedings nor was she given any notice thereof except by publication in a South Carolina newspaper. The final decree of divorce was entered in 1955, and then Henry and defendant were ceremoniously married in Newark.

On May 17, 1960 Henry sustained a mortal injury in the course of his employment, as a civilian, by the United States Air Force.

The instant proceedings were commenced May 22, 1963. The trial court found that plaintiff had no knowledge of the South Carolina divorce, nor of the subsequent marriage at Newark, until after the death of Henry. Hence, neither laches nor estoppel could be asserted to preclude her from challenging the jurisdiction of South Carolina to grant the divorce decree. Cf. Lawler v. Lawler , 2 N.J. 527, 535 (1949).

Since the facts reveal that Newark was the domicile of Henry at all times after 1940, this State is not required to give full faith and credit to the South Carolina divorce. Williams v. North Carolina , 325 U.S. 226, 65 S. Ct. 1092, 89 L. Ed. 1577 (1945); Lea v. Lea , 18 N.J. 1, 7 (1955); Tonti v. Chadwick , 1 N.J. 531, 535 (1949); cf. Meeker v. Meeker , 52 N.J. 59, 70 (1968). Therefore, the divorce issue raised by the pleadings was properly disposed of by the trial judge.

We turn now to the money judgment. In February 1961 defendant, as the alleged surviving widow of Henry, received $4,339.49 from the Bureau of Retirement and Insurance, United States Civil Service Commission, in "full payment of the lump-sum benefit due under the Civil Service Retirement Law."

In 1962 plaintiff applied for such death benefits and, on February 13, 1963, she was informed by the Bureau that her application had been disallowed. On the same day her attorney was advised that his client's case had been reviewed and, after noting the South Carolina divorce, the agency letter stated: "In the absence of a decision by a court of competent jurisdiction setting aside such divorce before settlement of the claim, the Commission has no alternative but to accept the divorce decree as valid. Accordingly, payment was properly made to Carrie Samuel as the legal widow of Henry Samuel."

No administrative appeal was taken from the determination of the Bureau, and no proceedings were instituted by plaintiff in South Carolina to set aside the divorce that had been granted in that state. Furthermore, 5 ...


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