This is in response to your memorandum dated September 27, 1978 regarding the recognition
by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico of a valid Dominican Republic divorce based on
mutual consent. The occasion for the delay has been a major change in the applicable
law of divorce due to a recent Puerto Rico Supreme Court decision -- Sonia F. F~ and
Roberto Morales Morales v. the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (May 15, 1978)-- which held portions of the statute in this area unconstitutional.
The statute has not been amended to reflect this change and the case opinion, which
is quite lengthy, was published only in Spanish and required a translation. For your
information, I have attached a copy of the translation.
As a result of this recent decision Puerto Rico must now permit divorces based on
mutual consent in order to fully protect its citizens' constitutional right to privacy
and human dignity, a right which the Puerto Rico Supreme Court held to be rather more
sweeping than the corresponding federal Constitutional rights. Since mutual consent
is now a legal, legitimate ground for divorce in Puerto Rico it can no longer be considered
a matter contrary to Puerto Rican "public policy."
This is important because principles of international law, or comity, generally require
that one country accept as valid the valid judgments of another country unless those
foreign judgments violate a strong public policy of the country which is being called
upon to give recognition. In the past, Puerto Rico interpreted the public policy issue
in the foreign divorce context quite narrowly, so as not to recognize foreign divorces
granted upon grounds unavailable in Puerto Rico. See, e.g. Ramirez v. Registrar, 96 Puerto Rican Reports 332, 348 (1968). But even under a narrow test, valid foreign
mutual consent divorces would now be valid in Puerto Rico.
We recognize that the divorce of Carmen R. R~ was obtained prior to the change in
Puerto Rican law but, for several reasons, do not believe that this would prevent
its application to this decision -- i.e., whether or not to recognize the Dominican
Republic judgment at this time, as valid in Puerto Rico. First, decisions based on
fundamental constitutional rights are often applied retroactively, insofar as possible.
More importantly, under principles of comity, the only issue herein presented is whether
a divorce concedely valid in the country in which it was obtained at the time it was
obtained would today be deemed consistent with the public policy of Puerto Rico. Considering
the strong terms in which the Puerto Rico Supreme Court couched its opinion on mutual
consent divorces, we believe that it would look askance at any contention that public
policy precluded the recognition at this time of a valid foreign judgment based on
the same grounds.