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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Are "quick" Mexico divorces enforceable in California?

As discussed in our previous posting, many Americans are still obtaining, or trying to obtain, quick divorces in foreign jurisdictions, with Mexico being a “preferred” jurisdiction.  The validity of such divorces was discussed in that posting.  The following arguments explain why such divorces are generally unenforceable in California:

·                     The public policy of California may not permit the recognition of a foreign divorce decree when the foreign jurisdiction has no legitimate interest in the marital status of the parties, when the sole purpose of seeking the divorce in a foreign court is to evade the laws of this state. (Scott v. Scott, 51 Cal. 2d 249).

·                     A Mexican divorce decree issued by a court which had neither jurisdiction of the parties nor of the subject matter is entitled to no recognition by the California courts. (Estate of Hensgen, 80 Cal. App. 2d 78).

·                     A decree of divorce in California is invalid if the court in Mexico which granted the divorce did not have jurisdiction of either of the parties or of the subject matter of the action. (Harlan v. Harlan, 70 Cal. App. 2d 657).

·                     A foreign divorce decree that is procured on a fraudulent domicile or residence is invalid. (Sohnlein v. Winchell, 230 Cal. App. 2d 508; Schotte v. Schotte, 203 Cal. App. 2d 28).  

·                     A foreign divorce obtained through assumed residence is not in good faith. (Kegley v. Kegley, 16 Cal. App. 2d 216)

·                     Where the foreign jurisdiction has no legitimate interest in the status of the parties, or where the sole purpose of seeking the divorce in the foreign jurisdiction is to evade the policy of this state, the judgment should not be recognized, despite the provisions of Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1915. (Sohnlein v. Winchell, 230 Cal. App. 2d 508).   

·                     The California courts have long denied validity to Mexican divorces obtained by California residents ex parte without reasonable notice. (Brown v. Brown, 274 Cal. App. 2d 178).

·                     The existence of jurisdiction is always a proper subject of inquiry in connection with any judgment of a foreign court offered in the courts of our own state; and under said circumstances, where the Mexican courts never acquired any jurisdiction of the marriage status or of the parties, the purported decree of divorce rendered therein was a nullity. (People v. Harlow, 9 Cal. App. 2d 643).

This analysis reasonably leads to the conclusion that Mexico “mail order” or “quick” divorces are generally unenforceable.  To determine whether a specific Mexico divorce is enforceable or not in California, interested parties shall consult with competent legal counsel.  

Mauricio Leon de la Barra is an international law attorney licensed to practice law in Mexico and California, and has more than 15 years of experience representing clients in business and real estate transactions and litigation involving international, U.S. and Mexican laws.