PR 06210.026 Minnesota
A. PR 86-032 Validity of Dominican Republic Divorce and Application of Minnesota Law of Estoppel -- Charles J~, A/N ~
DATE: July 25, 1986
DIVORCE--VALIDITY OF DIVORCE OBTAINED OUTSIDE OF STATE -- OUTSIDE UNITED STATES -- MINNESOTA
A divorce obtained by proxy in a foreign jurisdiction where neither of the parties ever resided would be invalid under Minnesota law. Estoppel to assert the invalidity of the divorce applies in Minnesota only to disputes involving marital property rights and thus would not be applicable in determining the marital status for purposes of establishing entitlement to Social Security benefits. (J~, Charles, ~ -- RAV (K~) , to ARC, Programs, 07/25/86.)
This is with reference to your inquiry concerning whether Minnesota would recognize a Dominican Republic proxy divorce where neither party resided in the Dominican Republic at any time and, if the divorce is found to be invalid, whether the claimant would be estopped to assert the invalidity of the divorce.
The claimant, Betty J~, married the wage earner in November 1943 in Utah. Upon the wage earner's July 22, 1968 death in Minnesota, the claimant became entitled to widow's benefits.
The claimant married Paul A. N~ in South Dakota on October 30, 1970. Their marriage, if not ended, would preclude claimant's entitlement as the widow of the wage earner since it occurred before claimant turned 60. She alleged that she was divorced on May 21, 1980 from Mr. N~ in the Dominican Republic.
The claimant and Mr. N~ resided in Saudi Arabia from 1973 to 1980. In 1980 Mr. N~ filed for a divorce to be arranged by proxy in the Dominican Republic. Since a divorce was difficult for non-Moslems in Saudi Arabia, Paul took the advice of persons in the United States Embassy in Jeddah and filed in the Dominican Republic. A translation of the divorce decree states that the claimant was found in default, the divorce was granted, and the claimant's surname was changed to J~
. Both the claimant and Mr. N~ stated they have never resided at any time in the Dominican Republic. The claimant stated that she never received written notice of the divorce proceeding, but Paul gave her verbal notice. She did not file an answer to the complaint.
After the divorce, claimant returned to Minnesota and contacted an attorney to review the divorce papers. An agreement was reached dividing the personal property and claimant received a $15,000 cash settlement. The settlement was part of the divorce proceeding. The claimant states in her July 30, 1985 application for widow's benefits that she resides in Stillwater, Minnesota.
The law of the state in which a claimant-widow is domiciled at the time she files an application is the law applicable in determining the validity of a divorce which purported to dissolve an intervening remarriage of a widow after the death of a husband on whose account benefits are claimed. Joseph v. B~ ~, GC (P~) to PC SF, 1/20/67; Willard V ~ , ~ , RA vii (A~) to Reg. Rep., BRSI Reg. VII, 8/7/73 (copy attached). Since the claimant resided in Minnesota at the time she filed her application for widow's benefits, the law of Minnesota is applicable. Minnesota follows the general rule that the courts of the United States will not recognize a divorce obtained in a foreign country if neither spouse had a domicile in that country. Walter R~ S~ ,~, RA V(M~)to Chicago PC , 9/22/64 (copy attached); Dominican Republic proxy divorce where neither party resided in the Dominican Republic.
There remains the question as to whether under Minnesota law the claimant is estopped to assert the invalidity of her divorce from Mr. N~. The B~ opinion, supra, further went on to hold that if after application of State law the divorce is found to be invalid, and under that State law the widow would be estopped to assert the invalidity of the divorce, she may be found to be "not married" for purposes of entitlement to benefits as the widow of a prior husband.
In Minnesota, an estoppel to assert the invalidity of a foreign divorce applies only to disputes involving marital property rights. S~ and V~ opinions, supra. These opinions contain the Minnesota position on estoppel to assert the invalidity of a divorce and state, in part:
In some jurisdictions, it has been held that this estoppel to assert the invalidity of a marriage not only prevents the spouse from asserting property rights arising from the marriage but any attempt to validate the marriage status. However, in Minnesota, the Supreme Court has consistently pointed out that the estoppel only affects property rights between the parties. Thus, in Ellis v. Ellis, 56 N.W. 1056 (Minn., 1893), the court held that:
'A judgment operating on a res may be binding between the parties to the action without binding one not a party, but interested in the res. In an action for divorce the res upon which the judgment operates is the status of the parties. There are three parties interested in that, - the husband, the wife, and the state of their residence.
* * * the first two parties representing their respective interests as individuals; the state concerned to guard the morals of its citizens, by taking care that neither by collusion nor otherwise shall divorce be allowed under such circumstances so as to reduce marriage to a mere temporary arrangement of conscience or passions.'
We believe that Minnesota courts would not permit claimant to rely on the principle of estoppel as that principle is applied under Minnesota law. Since the Minnesota courts would consider claimant still married to Mr. N~, we believe you would be justified in concluding she is not reentitled to benefits as the widow of the wage earner.