In this ever-increasing era of complete interstate mobility, multi-state forums for divorce are becoming more common, and the problems emanating therefrom more involved. It has long been recognized that two states may have the proper, absolute jurisdiction to render a divorce in a given marriage. The greater the wealth, the more extensive the assets, the more far-flung the property, the more complex the solution becomes.
A point is reached in a given marriage where divorce becomes recognized, inevitable and, to the parties, desirable. Although neither party cares which state grants the actual divorce, both parties are highly concerned as to which state considers and decides the financial issues. In many instances dissolution actions are commenced in two states. Courts are called upon to determine jurisdiction. That point has been reached in this matter.
History becomes important and significant. In this matter, the parties were married on August 31, 1961 in Reno, Nevada. During the first-13 years of marriage, plaintiff and defendant lived in New York, Florida, Kentucky and New Jersey. In 1975, the marital home was built in Saddle River, New Jersey, where the parties and their children lived together until April 1980, when defendant left for Florida, plaintiff and the children remaining.
Sandy was born October 10, 1963, the first child of the marriage. Christopher, plaintiff's child by a prior marriage and adopted by defendant, was born December 15, 1959. Although both have reached the age of majority, neither is emancipated. Presently Sandy resides with plaintiff, and Christopher, since September 1983, resides with defendant in Florida.
The nature and extent of plaintiff's contact with the State of Florida becomes crucial.
Plaintiff claims she was only in Florida for about four days in 1979 or 1980 when defendant opened a shopping center. On July 9, 1979 plaintiff and defendant executed a mortgage for a condominium in Florida, which defendant claims to be the marital home. The title (deed) is in defendant's sole name and plaintiff claims that, in fact, she has never seen this residence let alone having lived there for a week in 1979 as claimed by defendant.
It appears from the pleadings that from 1972 to 1974 plaintiff and defendant did reside, at times, in Hollywood and Palm Beach, Florida, as well as -- apparently -- in other states, all prior to purchasing the Saddle River residence.
On or about December 14, 1983 defendant filed an action for divorce in the Circuit Court of Florida, 8th Judicial Circuit, in and for Alachua County, Florida. The Florida court found the defendant to be a legal bona fide resident of Florida.
On January 5, 1984 plaintiff was personally served with a summons and petition for dissolution of marriage, but plaintiff made no formal appearance with relation thereto.
On January 18, 1984 plaintiff filed suit for divorce in New Jersey, and obtained an order to show cause which temporarily restrained defendant from proceeding with his Florida action.
On or about January 23, 1984 the Florida court received a letter from plaintiff's attorneys transmitting documents, which the Florida court ruled did not constitute participation.
On January 26, 1984, defendant was served in Florida with the New Jersey pleadings.
On February 14, 1984, plaintiff obtained an additional order to show cause which continued the restraints of the January 18, 1984 order, and scheduled a return date for February 17, 1984.
On February 16, 1984, in spite of and in the face of New Jersey restraints defendant proceeded in Florida and obtained an "Order on Motion for Determination of General Appearance, Default and Awarding Temporary Alimony."
On February 17, 1984, the adjourned return date of the order to show cause, legal arguments were heard, at which time the court also considered defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's New Jersey complaint and to dissolve all restraints.
On March 5, 1984, this court signed an order requiring plaintiff to submit a medical affidavit, with defendant reserving the right to depose plaintiff's treating physician all on the question of special equities. The restraints contained in the
January 18, 1984 order were continued, and upon receipt and consideration of all medical information, the court was to rule. Plaintiff submitted her medical affidavit pursuant to this court's order.
This court is now called upon to make the following determinations:
1. Is New Jersey required to afford full faith and credit pursuant to U.S. Const., Art. IV, § 1, to the order of the courts of Florida, i.e., does Florida have such in personam jurisdiction over plaintiff as to make support (whether alimony or child support) and equitable distribution rulings?
2. If so, are there special equities which would cause this court to assume jurisdiction regardless?
3. Does New Jersey have in personam jurisdiction of the defendant which would permit it to enter support and equitable distribution rulings?
In determining jurisdiction, this court must first examine the full faith and credit clause of the United States Constitution. Ibid.
Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records and Judicial Proceedings of every other state, and the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved and the effect thereof.
In Williams v. North Carolina, 325 U.S. 226, 278, 65 S. Ct. 1092, 1118, 89 L. Ed. 1577, 1608 (1945), the United States Supreme Court established the right of a party to a marriage to dissolve the res of the marriage in a foreign jurisdiction so long as that party has established a bona fide domicile in the foreign state.
In this matter it is clear that the defendant has established his domicile in the State of Florida and, therefore,
the Florida Court has clear in rem jurisdiction to dissolve the marriage.
Justice Frankfurter, in Williams held that:
[T]he decree of divorce is a conclusive adjudication of everything except the jurisdictional facts upon which it is founded, and domicile is a jurisdictional fact. To permit the necessary finding of domicile by one State to foreclose all States in the protection of their social institutions would be intolerable. [325 U.S. at 232, 65 S. Ct. at 1096.]
Therefore, the Florida proceeding has time priority in becoming the legal and proper forum to grant the actual divorce and defendant should be free from "vexation and subsequent litigation over the same subject matter" in New Jersey or elsewhere. Crosley Corp. v. Hazeltine Corp., 122 F.2d 925, 930 (3 Cir.1941).
However, as stated above, the parties are not concerned over which state actually dissolves the marriage, but rather which state addresses the financial issues. The full faith and credit clause obligates this State to recognize the Florida priority for divorce if factually granted prior to consideration in New Jersey, both states having unquestioned in rem jurisdiction. New Jersey will do so.
The question now to be determined by this court is whether Florida also has in personam jurisdiction over plaintiff to enable it to determine support and equitable distribution to the exclusion of New Jersey. If not, and given a Florida dissolution judgment, our statutes permit our courts to determine financial ...