ANDREWS V. ANDREWS, 188 U. S. 14 (1903)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Andrews v. Andrews, 188 U.S. 14 (1903)

Andrews v. Andrews

No. 23

Argued February 28, 1902

Decided January 19, 1903

188 U.S. 14


When rights, based on a judgment obtained in one state, are asserted in the courts of another state under the due faith and credit clause of the federal Constitution, the power exists in the state court in which they are asserted to look back of the judgment and ascertain whether the claim which had entered into it was one susceptible of being enforced in another state (Wisconsin v. Pelican Insurance Company, 127 U. S. 215; Thompson v. Whitman, 18 Wall. 457). And where such rights are in due time asserted, the power to decide whether the federal question so raised was rightly disposed of in the court below exists in, and involves the exercise of jurisdiction by, this Court.

Page 188 U. S. 15

1. Although marriage, viewed solely as a civil relation, possesses elements of contract, it is so interwoven with the very fabric of society that it cannot be entered into except as authorized by law, and it may not, when once entered into, be dissolved by the mere consent of the parties.

The Constitution of the United States confers no power whatever upon the government of the United States to regulate marriage or its dissolution in the states.

A state may forbid the enforcement within its borders of a decree of divorce procured by its own citizens who, whilst retaining their domicil in the prohibiting state, have gone into another state to procure a divorce in fraud of the law of the domicil.

The statute of Massachusetts, which provides that a divorce decreed in another state or country by a court having jurisdiction of the cause and both the parties shall be valid and effectual in the Commonwealth, but if an inhabitant of Massachusetts goes into another state or country to obtain a divorce for a cause which occurred in Massachusetts while the parties resided there, or for a cause which would not authorize a divorce by the laws of Massachusetts, a divorce so obtained shall have no force or effect in that Commonwealth, is an expression of the public policy of that state in regard to a matter wholly under its control, and does not conflict with the Constitution of the United States or violate the full faith and credit clause thereof. And the courts of Massachusetts are not obliged to enforce a decree of divorce obtained in another state as to persons domiciled in Massachusetts and who go into such other state with the purpose of practicing a fraud upon the laws of the their domicil -- that is, to procure a divorce without obtaining a bona fide domicil in such other state.

2. Although a particular provision of the Constitution may seemingly be applicable, its controlling effect is limited by the essential nature of the powers of government reserved to the states when the Constitution was adopted.

As the State of Massachusetts has exclusive jurisdiction over its citizens concerning the marriage tie and its dissolution, and consequently the authority to prohibit them from perpetrating a fraud upon the law of their domicil by temporarily sojourning in another state and there procuring a decree of divorce without acquiring a bona fide domicil, a decree of divorce obtained in South Dakota upon grounds which do not permit a divorce in Massachusetts under the conditions stated in the opinion is not rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction and hence the due faith and credit clause of the Constitution does not require the enforcement of such decree in the Massachusetts against the public policy of that state as expressed in its statutes.

The plaintiff and the defendant in error, each claiming to be the lawful widow of Charles S. Andrews, petitioned to be appointed administratrix of his estate. The facts were found as follows:

Page 188 U. S. 16

Charles S. and Kate H. Andrews married in Boston in April, 1887, and they lived together at their matrimonial domicil in the State of Massachusetts. In April, 1890, the wife began a suit for separate maintenance, which was dismissed in December, 1890, because of a settlement between the parties, adjusting their property relations.

In the summer of 1891, Charles S. Andrews, to quote from the findings,

"being then a citizen of Massachusetts and domiciled in Boston, went to South Dakota to obtain a divorce for a cause which occurred here while the parties resided here, and which would not authorize a divorce by the laws of this commonwealth; he remained personally in that state a period of time longer than is necessary by the laws of said state to gain a domicil there, and on November 19, 1891, filed a petition for divorce in the proper court of that state."

Concerning the conduct of Charles S. Andrews and his purpose to obtain a divorce in South Dakota, while retaining his domicil in Massachusetts, the facts were found as follows:

"The husband went to South Dakota, and took up his residence there to get this divorce, and that he intended to return to this state when the business was finished. He boarded at a hotel in Sioux Falls all the time, and had no other business there than the prosecution of this divorce suit. I find, however, that he voted there at a state election in the fall of 1891, claiming the right to do so as a bona fide resident under the laws of that state. His intention was to become a resident of that state for the purpose of getting his divorce, and to that end to do all that was needful to make him such a resident, and I find he became a resident if, as a matter of law, such finding is warranted in the facts above stated."

And further, that --

"The parties had never lived together as husband and wife in South Dakota, nor was it claimed that either one of them was ever in that state, except as above stated."

With reference to the divorce proceedings in South Dakota it was found as follows:

"The wife received notice, and appeared by counsel and filed an answer, denying that the libellant was then or ever had been

Page 188 U. S. 17

a bona fide resident of South Dakota, or that she had deserted him, and setting up cruelty on his part toward her. This case was settled, so far as the parties were concerned, in accordance with the terms of the agreement of April 22, 1892, signed by the wife and consented to by the husband, and, for the purpose of carrying out her agreement 'to consent to the granting of divorce for desertion in South Dakota,' she requested her counsel there to withdraw her appearance in that suit, which they did, and thereafterwards, namely, on May 6, 1892, a decree granting the divorce was passed, and within a day or two afterwards, the said Charles, having attained the object of his sojourn in that state, returned to this commonwealth, where he resided and was domiciled until his death, which occurred in October, 1897."

By the agreement of April 22, 1892, to which reference is made in the finding just quoted, it was stipulated that a payment of a sum of money should be made by Charles S. Andrews to his wife, and she authorized her attorney, on the receipt of the money, to execute certain papers, and it was then provided as follows:

"Fourth. Upon the execution of such papers, M. F. Dickinson, Jr., is authorized in my name to consent to the granting of divorce for desertion, in the South Dakota court."

Respecting the claim of Annie Andrews to be the wife of Charles S. Andrews, it was found as follows:

"Upon his return to this state, he soon met the petitioner, and on January 11, 1893, they were married in Boston, and ever after that lived as husband and wife in Boston, and were recognized as such by all until his death. The issue of this marriage are two children, still living."

It was additionally found that Annie Andrews married Charles S. Andrews in good faith, and in ignorance of any illegality in the South Dakota divorce, and that Kate H. Andrews, as far as she had the power to do so, had connived at and acquiesced in the South Dakota divorce, had preferred no claim thereafter to be the wife of Charles S. Andrews until his death, when in this case she asserted her right to administer his estate as his lawful widow.

Page 188 U. S. 18

From the evidence above stated, the ultimate facts were found to be that Andrews had always retained his domicil in Massachusetts, had gone to Dakota for the purpose of obtaining a divorce, in fraud of the laws of Massachusetts, and with the intention of returning to that state when the divorce was procured, and hence that he had never acquired a bona fide domicil in South Dakota. Applying a statute of the State of Massachusetts forbidding the enforcement in that state of a divorce obtained under the circumstances stated, it was decided that the decree rendered in South Dakota was void in the State of Massachusetts, and hence that Kate H. Andrews was the widow of Charles S. Andrews and entitled to administer his estate. 176 Mass. 92.

Page 188 U. S. 28

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