The genesis of this opinion is an issue which has been avoided on innumerable occasions by property settlements between divorcing parties and which, apparently, has never been addressed by our courts. Simply stated, the issue before the court is whether a party, after a valid divorce in a sister state, may obtain equitable distribution of a res located within this State, where the sister state's divorce laws affect property by operation of law.
Plaintiff wife and defendant husband were lawfully married on February 14, 1964, in Miami, Florida. The parties
lived as husband and wife in this jurisdiction until some time in 1972, when defendant established domicile in Florida. Thereafter, defendant instituted a divorce proceeding against his wife; she entered a general appearance in that action.
A "Final Judgment Dissolving Marriage" was rendered by the Circuit Court of the 11th Judicial Circuit of Dade County, Florida, on August 30, 1972. That judgment awarded plaintiff custody of the two minor children born of the marriage*fn1 and the court reserved jurisdiction to enforce or modify an agreement for support of the children arranged between the parties. Importantly, the decree is silent as to the division or disposition of either personalty or realty which was then held by the parties as tenants by the entirety.
Plaintiff later remarried. She and her husband took up residence with the two minor children at what may be referred to as the DeMola marital home. Thereafter, on or about December 13, 1974, plaintiff filed a complaint seeking equitable distribution of all property, both real and personal, which was legally and beneficially acquired by the parties, or either of them, during the marriage. In particular, plaintiff seeks equitable distribution of the marital home located in this jurisdiction which was the principal asset acquired by the parties during the marriage.
Plaintiff takes the position that since the Florida decree is silent as to the disposition of personalty and realty, which personalty and realty are located within this State, this court has jurisdiction to decide the manner in which that property should be divided. Defendant, who counterclaims for partition, takes the position that since the State of
Florida had jurisdiction over both of the parties, and since the validity of the Florida decree has not been challenged, Florida law should apply. Counsel have stipulated that Florida does not have an equitable distribution statute, following, instead, common law rules, and that under Florida law where a husband and wife who own property as tenants by the entirety are divorced they become, as a matter of law, tenants in common.*fn2 Accordingly, the issue, as refined, may be restated as follows: As to real property located in this State, does the full faith and credit clause, U.S. Const. Art. IV, § 1, mandate that this court recognize the conversion of estates achieved pursuant to Florida law and preclude the court from applying New Jersey's equitable distribution statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23? The court answers this question in the affirmative.
The court hardly need pause to note that a valid divorce decree of a sister state is entitled to full faith and credit and must be recognized in this State. E.g., Woodhouse v. Woodhouse , 17 N.J. 409, 415-16 (1955); Manfrini v. Manfrini , 136 N.J. Super. 390, 394 (App. Div. 1975); Woliner v. Woliner , 132 N.J. Super. 216, 221 (App.
Div.), aff'd o.b. , 68 N.J. 324 (1975); Lawrence v. Lawrence , 79 N.J. Super. 25, 32 (App. Div. 1963); see Meeker v. Meeker , 52 N.J. 59 (1968). In addition, it must now be regarded as settled that a valid divorce decree of a sister state may affect property located within New Jersey, and that such determination is, similarly, entitled to full faith and credit. E.g., Manfrini v. Manfrini, supra , 136 N.J. Super. at 395; Higginbotham v. ...