A divorce decree from a foreign country will be enforced by a Florida Court when: (i) the parties were given sufficient notice and an opportunity to be heard at the divorce hearing, (ii) the foreign court had jurisdiction, and (iii) the divorce decree does not offend the public policy of the State of Florida.  The law of a foreign country will not be applied when the law is unjust or unreasonable, or it contravenes the strong public policy of the State of Florida.

In a divorce case captioned, Armand v. Amisy, the Husband and Wife were married in Haiti in 2008.  In 2014 they moved to Massachusetts with their three children.  In 2016, they moved to Florida.  Husband filed for divorce in Florida in September of 2017.  Wife filed an Answer and a Counter-Petition in Florida.  Husband then filed a Voluntary Dismissal in Florida and a Motion to Dismiss Wife’s Counter-Petition.  Husband alleged that Florida lacked subject matter jurisdiction.  Husband argued that he was a Haitian citizen and resided in Somalia, and that his Wife had returned to Massachusetts with their children prior to filing her Counter-Petition in Florida.

Prior to the hearing on Husband’s Motion to Dismiss, Husband filed a divorce decree from Haiti.  Husband stated that he initiated a dissolution proceeding in Haiti in 2014, and that a Final Judgment granting his divorce was entered in May of 2017.  In May of 2018, Husband filed a Second Motion to Dismiss for want of subject matter jurisdiction based on the fact that the parties were already divorced in Haiti.

In Armand v. Amisy, the Florida Court of Appeal pointed out that Florida trial courts only have jurisdiction as a result of the Florida Constitution or a Florida statute.  Parties cannot agree to jurisdiction and objections to subject matter jurisdiction cannot we waived.  A court’s lack of subject matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time.

As a general rule, Final Judgments rendered by courts of foreign countries are recognized and enforced in the United States.  Foreign judgments should be recognized as being valid and should be entitled to comity, when the parties have been given notice, they have had the opportunity to be heard, the court had original jurisdiction, and the foreign judgment does not offend Florida’s public policy.

Where a foreign Final Judgment has dissolved the marriage, the trial court in Florida does not possess subject jurisdiction to enter a Final Judgment of Divorce in Florida. Since the trial court did not hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the Haitian divorce decree that Husband sought to present to the court was a valid judgment, the Florida Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s Final Judgment of divorce and remanded the case back to the trial court to hold a hearing on this issue.

To speak with a Wellington, Florida divorce attorney to discuss family law issues, contact the Lane Law Firm, P.A.