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Sherrer v. Sherrer

    Brief Fact Summary.
    Mrs. Sherrer (Plaintiff) left her home and husband in Massachusetts and sought to obtain a divorce in Florida.  Mr. Sherrer (Defendant) appeared personally in that proceeding in which all issues, including domicile, were litigated.  He now seeks to void the decree in Massachusetts for lack of Florida jurisdiction.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    A divorce decree granted by a sister state is not subject to attack and must be given full faith and credit where such attack would not prevail in the rendering state due to res judicata.

    Facts
    Mrs. Sherrer (Plaintiff) and Mr. Sherrer (Defendant) were domiciled in Massachusetts during their marriage.  Plaintiff went to Florida and obtained a divorce in a proceeding where Defendant personally appeared and litigated all issues including the validity of her domicile.  She then moved back to Massachusetts where Defendant sought to void the divorce as having been granted by Florida without proper jurisdiction since he argued she was never properly domiciled in Florida.

    Issue
    Must full faith and credit be given to the divorce decree of a sister state where the decree was granted after both parties appeared and all issues were litigated including jurisdiction?

    Held
    (Vinson, C.J.)  Yes.  The issue of domicile must be resolved by judicial determination.  However once that issue has been litigated and determined it is as subject to the doctrine of res judicata as any other issue.  Where a divorce has been granted by one state in which all parties have litigated the issue of domicile, as here, as long as that decree is not subject to collateral attack in the rendering state, it is immune from collateral attack somewhere else.  Mr. Sherrer (Defendant) appeared personally and was represented by counsel in the Florida proceeding.  If he felt the trial court erred, he could have used the appellate process of that state.  Since he did not appeal at that time, the decree therefore entered must be given full faith and credit in Massachusetts.  Reversed.

    Dissent
    (Frankfurter, J.)  The majority understands the Full Faith and Credit Clause to give states that offer bargain-counter divorces constitutional power to control the social policy governing domestic relations of the many states that do not.  The state’s interest in the family relations of its citizens is vastly different from the interest it has in ordinary commercial transactions.  Therefore, the constitutional power of a state to determine the marriage status of its citizens should not be deemed foreclosed by a proceeding between the parties in another state, even though in other types of controversy, considerations that make it desirable to stop litigation might foreclose the parties themselves from reopening the dispute.

    Discussion
    The principle of this case has been extended to situations where the defendant spouse has not appeared personally but has been represented by a general appearance of a local attorney.  In those cases, full faith and credit has been granted even where no issues were litigated if they could have been.  However, if the plaintiff spouse controlled the attorney representing the defendant spouse or if consent was obtained by misrepresentation, full faith and credit has been denied.


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