Report No. 65
III. American Decisions
19.7. American cases.-
It may be mentioned that the decision of the Divisional Court in Wood v. Wood, (1956) 3 All ER 645, on Appeal Wood v. Wood, (1957) 2 All ER 14., which led to the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the same case to which we have referred above,1 was the subject of a note by Professor Goodhart in the Law Quarterly Review.2 In that note, he referred to certain American cases, and particularly to Estin v, Estin, (1948) 334 US 541, para. 19.8, infra-a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, and Vanderbilt v. Vanderbilt, (1956) 135 NE 2d 553. (New York Court of Appeals). On appeals, Vanderbilt v. Vanderbilt, (1957) 354 US 416 (418)-a decision of the Court of Appeals of New York. (After the note, the decision in Vanderbilt was approved by the Supreme Court). The rationale of these decisions is that a court cannot adjudicate a personal claim or obligation unless it has jurisdiction over the person of the defendant.
In both these American cases3 the questions before the court were primarily directed to the impact of Article IV, section 14, of the Constitution of the United States (commonly called the "full faith and credit clause"), on the law of New York State as expounded or enacted. That article provides that "Full faith and credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial proceedings of every other State."
1. Para. 19.4, supra.
2. Goodhart in (1957) 73 LQR 29.
On appeal, Vanderbilt v. Vanderbilt, (1957) 354 US 416 (418).
3. See discussion in Wood v. Wood, (1957) 2 All ER 14 (CA).
4. Article IV, section 1 of the Constitution of the U.S.A.
19.8. American cases.-
In Estin v. Estin, (1948) 334 US 541 (546, 547, 549)-a judgment of the Supreme Court of the U.S.A.-the wife had obtained, against her husband, a support order (equivalent to our maintenance order), from the New York court, at a time when both parties were domiciled in that state. Later, the husband, having acquired a domicile in Nevada, obtained an "ex parte" decree of divorce. The highest court in New York having (as the majority of the Supreme Court thought) held that its jurisdiction to maintain the support order survived the divorce, the question was whether that conclusion was consistent with the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution.
There was a division of opinion in the Supreme Court, Jackson J. being of opinion that New York was discriminating against a particular kind of decree, an "ex parte" decree, and that it could not do so consistently with the obligation of the full faith and credit clause; Frankfurter, J., however, not being satisfied that the New York Court of Appeals had, in truth, reached the conclusion attributed to it, favoured a reference back to the New York court accordingly. The view of the majority of the Supreme Court of the U.S.A. in this case rested on the circumstance that the decree was an "ex parte" decree.
Taking the view that the highest court in New York had held that a support order could survive such a divorce, and that the support order in the case before them had so survived, they were of opinion, first, that a change in marital status did not necessarily involve the result that all the legal incidents of marriage-including the quasi-proprietary personal rights of a wife under a support order-were thereby affected; and, secondly, that in the case of an "ex parte" divorce, there was nothing offensive to the full faith and credit clause in the view taken by the New York courts that scope of the Nevada decree did not, outside Nevada, extend beyond a determination of the marriage status.
The majority opinion of the Supreme Court delivered by Douglas J., contained this passage: "Nevada apparently follows the rule that dissolution of the marriage puts an end to a support order." The majority further said that the claim of the husband, if accepted, would involve "nothing less than an attempt by Nevada to restrain (the wife) from asserting her claim under (the judgment) of the New York court".
19.9. Principle of American cases.-
We need not discuss Vanderbilt's case. But, it clearly emerges from the two cases that, if-to take a hypothetical case-a wife obtains from her husband, (then domiciled in New York), a maintenance order or its equivalent (as by the law of the state she might clearly do), and if, thereafter, her husband acquires an English domicile and obtains an ex parte divorce in England, the courts of the New York State would regard themselves as perfectly free to continue or vary, as they thought fit, their own pre-existing maintenance order, either (i) on the ground that the principle of comity did not require any greater acknowledgment of the "ex parte" English decree than a recognition of the determination of the marriage status, or (ii) on the ground that, since the English decree, on its face, did not purport to do more than determine the married status (and particularly did not purport to affect the New York law as to maintenance and the order made thereunder), it was a matter wholly within the competence of the New York courts to decide what, according to their own law, was the effect of the English decree on the position and personal rights of its own Citizens (including the children of the marriage).
Thus, the American view as can be deduced from the above decisions and the English view are, in substance, the same.