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Das v. Das

New Jersey Superior Court, Chancery Division

Decided: January 14, 1992.



Wolfson, J.s.c.


[254 NJSuper Page 195]


The novel jurisdictional issue to be decided in this matrimonial action is whether the plaintiff's nonimmigrant alien status precludes her from obtaining a New Jersey divorce.

Plaintiff Viola Das and defendant Asit Das, citizens of India, entered the United States lawfully in March 1990, pursuant to validly issued visitors' visas.*fn1 They immediately took up residence with their son in Jersey City, New Jersey, later moving to their own quarters in that city. Ultimately, they executed a one (1) year lease in a garden apartment complex in New Brunswick in order to be closer to a retail business purchased by them in March 1991. Viola Das continues to reside in New Brunswick.

[254 NJSuper Page 196]

The parties separated in May 1991. In September, Viola Das initiated divorce proceedings, eventually filing a motion for pendente lite restraints. In response, Asit Das filed a cross motion to dismiss the divorce action based upon his wife's legal inability to establish "bona fide residence" within the meaning of the New Jersey divorce statute.*fn2 Supplemental briefs addressing this issue were filed, and oral arguments were presented to the court.

It is well established that "a bona fide resident" in this context means a "domiciliary." Voss v. Voss, 5 N.J. 402, 406-407, 75 A.2d 889 (1950); Raybin v. Raybin, 179 N.J. Super. 121, 126-127, 430 A.2d 953 (App.Div.1981). The "two requisites without which no domicile of choice can be established" are: (1) physical presence; and (2) a concomitant unqualified intention to remain permanently and indefinitely. Gosschalk v. Gosschalk, 48 N.J. Super. 566, 573, 138 A.2d 774 (App.Div.), aff'd o.b., 28 N.J. 73, 145 A.2d 327 (1958). Once there is physical presence, the key element is the intention to acquire a new domicile, rather than the purpose for making such a change. Gosschalk, supra, 48 N.J. Super. at 573, 138 A.2d 774.

In the present case, the defendant confirmed through his deposition testimony that he and his wife formulated an intention to remain in the United States "indefinitely", subsequent to their arrival here. His wife's similar contention, especially when viewed in conjunction with the objective and undisputed

[254 NJSuper Page 197]

facts,*fn3 compels the Conclusion that her domicile was and is New Jersey, unless that result has otherwise been precluded by operation of law.

Thus, the question is whether the plaintiff is legally disqualified from establishing domicile in New Jersey, despite her clearly manifested intention to do so. The closest New Jersey case to address the subject, Gosschalk v. Gosschalk, 48 N.J. Super. 566, 138 A.2d 774 (App.Div.), aff'd o.b., 28 N.J. 73, 145 A.2d 327 (1958), is helpful but not dispositive. There, the appellate division, determined that a nonimmigrant alien who held a provisional "treaty trader" visa and who had otherwise established an intention to make New Jersey his domicile by procuring visa extensions and by placing his family on the immigration "quota list", satisfied the jurisdictional prerequisites of N.J.S.A. 2A:34-10. In doing so, however, the court cautioned that:

[T]he only factor which might render such an intention inoperative would arise where a respondent's resolution to make New Jersey his permanent home would make his presence under the provisional visa illegal, so that his presence within the State "in violation of the immigration laws will not be considered as residence." (emphasis supplied). [ Id. 48 N.J. Super. at 574-75, 138 A.2d 774.]

In the present case, defendant seizes upon this language to defeat the court's jurisdiction, alleging that his wife's presence in New Jersey is, in fact, violative of federal immigration laws and is illegal by virtue of: (1) the expiration of her visitor's visa and the withdrawal of her request for political asylum;*fn4 and (2)

[254 NJSuper Page 198]

her failure to maintain the conditions of the visa.*fn5

This court is of the view that neither the expiration of plaintiff's visitor's visa nor her continued presence following the withdrawal of her application for political asylum constitute such violations of the immigration laws as should negate her intention to make New Jersey her permanent home.*fn6

In Williams v. Williams, 328 F. Supp. 1380, 1383 (D.V.I.1971) the federal district court rejected the contention that violations of the federal immigrations laws presented an "insuperable barrier" to a party's forming an actual intent to establish domicile. As noted by the district court:

[T]he fact that he may be illegally in the country and deportable would not preclude him from forming an actual intent to make his home here. * * * The enforcement of immigration laws properly remains with those to whom it is entrusted by law and does not need in aid of enforcement the judicially created civil disability of exclusion from our divorce courts. * * * To deny an alien access to our divorce courts on the sole ground that he may be in violation of an immigration law would be to deny both due process and the equal protection of the laws. Such a denial would attach a civil disability to some aliens without the prior benefit of the procedures designed for the purpose of enforcing the immigration laws. [ Id. at 1383.]

[254 NJSuper Page 199]

See also, In the Matter of the Marriage of Pirouzkar and Pirouzkar, 51 Or.App. 519, 626 P. 2d 380, 383-384 (1981) (consequences of immigration law not pertinent to the issue of domicile for purposes of divorce jurisdiction).

Nor is the wife's failure to maintain the conditions of her visa fatal to her ability to establish New Jersey as her domicile. Elkins v. Moreno, 435 U.S. 647, 98 S. Ct. 1338, 55 L. Ed. 2d 614 (1978) touched upon but did not decide whether federal law prevented the establishment of domicile by aliens who are required by their visas to maintain a foreign residence. 435 U.S. at 663-664, 98 S. Ct. at 1348-1349, 55 L. Ed. 2d at 627. Although an alien who fails to maintain the conditions attached to a status may be deportable, given the uncertainty of knowing when, if ever, deportation proceedings will be commenced, this court is persuaded that no legal disability precluding a change of domicile should exist.*fn7 Indeed, even where an alien has misrepresented his true intent at the time of entry and intends, contrary to the condition of the visa, to abandon his foreign residence, such an alien is not precluded as a matter of federal law from forming an actual intent to change his or her domicile. See Williams v. Williams, supra, 328 F. Supp. at 1383.*fn8

[254 NJSuper Page 200]

0 The Conclusion that federal immigration law does not preclude a state from allowing nonimmigrant aliens to establish a new domicile, is also in accord with the overwhelming weight of authority in other jurisdictions. In accord, Williams, supra; Pirouzkar, supra; Bustamante, supra; Abouissa v. Abouissa, 229 Ga. 77, 189 S.E. 2d 443, 445 (Ga.1972); Rzeszotarski v. Rzeszotarski, 296 A.2d 431, 435 (D.C.App.1972); Alves v. Alves, 262 A.2d 111, 115 (D.C.App.1970); Nicolas v. Nicolas, 444 So. 2d 1118, 1120 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1984); Babouder v. Abdennur, 41 Conn.Sup. 258, 566 A.2d 457, 461 (1989); and see generally, annot. 51 A.L.R. 3d 223 (1973).

An inflexible rule such as that espoused by defendant would require state trial courts to assume (or possibly usurp) the very function of the Federal Immigration and Naturalization Service. The adjudication of potentially complex questions of federal immigration law and policy is better left to that Federal Agency. Indeed, one can easily envision the difficulties 1 inherent in resolving alleged violations of the immigration laws which are not so apparent, or more probably, require determinations and/or the implementation of an ever evolving federal immigration policy, which itself may be affected by changes in the political climate. Moreover, even where a purported violation of immigration law is clear, or is conceded to exist, one cannot predict with any certainty when, if ever, deportation proceedings would be commenced.

Enforcement of immigration laws is the function of the Federal government. The determination of a party's domicile, on the other hand, must be resolved in accordance with state decisional law. Applying the undisputed facts and circumstances of this case to that law, plaintiff has conclusively demonstrated an intention to make New Jersey her domicile, thus empowering this court to adjudicate the complaint for divorce. Accordingly, defendant's cross motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction is denied.

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