Case Update: Foreign Divorce Decree Comity, Subject Matter Jurisdiction for property division and support

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania consolidated two appeals in the case of  Ileiwat v. Labadi (2020 PA Super 132 (2020)) and, on June 3, 2020, rejected the Husband’s argument that the Pennsylvania court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to order the division of the parties’ property or award support to the Wife because neither party was domiciled in Pennsylvania for the requisite period of time prior to Wife’s initiation of the PA divorce suit.

The parties, both dual-Jordanian-US nationals, had been living in Saudi Arabia for the Husband’s work since 2003. In 2014, the Husband took a 10-month project in Philadelphia.  The family purchased a condo and their children moved to the United States.  Approximately six months later, the family traveled to Saudi Arabia to renew their visas.  While the Husband and children returned to Philadelphia in January 2015, the Wife detoured to their native Jordan to visit family.  While she was in Jordan, the Husband called her and gave her notice of a unilateral divorce under Muslim law. He subsequently served the Wife with written notice of a revocable divorce, which became final and irrevocable after 90 days.  No financial issues were resolved as part of the Jordanian divorce.  When the Wife returned to Pennsylvania in March 2015, she filed a complaint for divorce in the Philadelphia courts. During the proceedings, both parties consented to a divorce, and so, “in the interest of judicial economy,” the Philadelphia court decreed its recognition of the Jordanian divorce, and then resolved the financial issues. 

The appellate court found that, while the pre-requisite to seek a divorce in Pennsylvania is one spouse’s domicile for a period of time before filing, this couple was already divorced in Jordan, and that divorce decree is due recognition (in this case, because both parties stated they wanted a divorce).  Therefore, the court only needs to determine whether it has subject matter jurisdiction to resolve the financial issues (invoking the concept of a divisible divorce).  With the property located in Pennsylvania, and with Husband in Pennsylvania and having been served in Pennsylvania, at the time of the proceedings, the Pennsylvania court had both in rem and in personam jurisdiction to resolve the financial matters.