Case Update: Comity, Foreign Marriage, Void Marriage

The Claflins spent significant time and energy litigating in two countries over their divorce.  

Ms. Zamora Claflin filed for divorce in Florida.  Mr. Claflin sought to dismiss her divorce petition, alleging that Ms. Zamora could not have legally married Mr. Claflin because she was already married at the time they said their vows. Both Ms. Zamora's first marriage and her marriage to Mr. Claflin occurred in the Philippines.   Therefore, the Florida court sent the couple packing to resolve the issue of Ms. Zamora’s sequential marriages in the Philippines.  

A court in San Mateo, Philippines declared Ms. Zamora’s first marriage invalid because she lacked the legal capacity to marry her first “husband” as she was too young.  Mr. Claflin, dissatisfied with this answer, took his grievance to a court in Pasig City, Philippines, where he argued that his marriage in the Philippines to Ms. Zamora was void ab initio because her first marriage was never declared invalid prior to her second marriage to Mr. Claflin.  The Pasig City court agreed and declared the Claflins’ marriage void ab initio as bigamous, terminated the mutual support obligations for their children declaring those children illegitimate and ordered the children’s birth certificates to be amended to reflect their new status.  

This left the Florida court in a conundrum - it had two foreign judgments that appeared to conflict.  

The Florida court would be bound to recognize a foreign order as a matter of comity if: 1) the parties were given adequate notice and opportunity to be heard, 2) the foreign court had jurisdiction, and 3) the judgment does not offend public policy of the state. 

The Appellate Court found that it was able to interpret the two foreign judgments harmoniously while considering Florida’s strong public policy to find valid a marriage  (particularly one that produced children).  Both Philippine orders declare Ms. Zamora’s first marriage invalid.  The Pasig City order went further and invalidated her second marriage.  Florida law presumes a second marriage to be the valid one, and to overcome this presumption, Mr. Claflin would have to prove that Ms. Zamora’s first marriage is valid, something he cannot prove given the court orders from the Philippines.  The part of the Pasig City order that declared the litigants’ marriage invalid is not recognized as it is contrary to Florida public policy.  Further, recognizing the Pasic City order voiding the Claflins' marriage would produce a fundamentally unfair result for Ms. Zamora and their children.  

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