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Williams v. State of North Carolina (I)

Citation. Williams v. North Carolina, 317 U.S. 287, 63 S. Ct. 207, 87 L. Ed. 279, 143 A.L.R. 1273 (U.S. Dec. 21, 1942)
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Brief Fact Summary

Williams (Defendant) and Hendrix (Defendant) were granted divorces from their spouses in a Nevada court. Defendants then married each other and moved back to their former home, North Carolina. The North Carolina court refused to recognize the Nevada divorce decrees and convicted Defendants of bigamy.

Synopsis of Rule of Law

A divorce granted in state A, on a finding that one spouse was domiciled in state A, must be respected in state B, when state A’s finding of domicile is unquestioned.


Williams (Defendant) and Hendrix (Defendant) were residents of North Carolina. Both moved to Nevada and filed for divorce against their spouses in a Nevada court. The defendants in these divorce actions entered no appearance and were not served with process in Nevada. However, service was made by publication in a Nevada newspaper and by personal service of process in North Carolina. The Nevada court found that each was domiciled in Nevada, and divorces were granted to Defendants. Williams (Defendant) and Hendrix (Defendant) then married each other in Nevada and moved back to North Carolina where they were convicted of bigamy on an implicit finding that the Nevada divorce decrees would not be recognized in North Carolina. In affirming the conviction, the North Carolina Supreme Court held that the Nevada divorces did not need to be recognized, even if the North Carolina court found that both Defendants had actually domiciled in Nevada.


Must a divorce granted in state A, on a finding that one spouse was domiciled in state A, be respected in state B, when state A’s finding of domicile is unquestioned?


(Douglas, J.) Yes. A divorce granted by Nevada, on a finding that one spouse was domiciled there, must be respected in North Carolina, where Nevada’s finding of domicile is unquestioned by the North Carolina court. The divorce must be respected in North Carolina even though the defendant in the divorce action has not appeared or been served with process in Nevada, and though recognition of such a divorce offends the policy of North Carolina. This rule is simply an application of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution. If one state were allowed to ignore a divorce in a sister state, even though the requirements of procedural due process were met in the divorce action, the result would be great injustice. In this case, if the court had decided otherwise, Williams (Defendant) and Hendrix (Defendant) would be lawfully married in Nevada but would be bigamists in North Carolina. Their children would be legitimate in one state and illegitimate in another state. Reversed and remanded.


(Jackson, J.) There was no conceivable basis of jurisdiction in the Nevada court over the absent spouses.


(Frankfurter, J.) North Carolina did not challenge the power of Nevada to declare the marital status of individuals found to be Nevada residents but chose to disrespect the consequences of such power.


The court explicitly overruled Haddock v. Haddock, 201 U.S. 562 (1906), which held that a state does not have jurisdiction over an absent spouse where that state is not the state of the “matrimonial domicile,†and where the domiciled spouse has wrongfully left the absent spouse. The Court felt that Haddock rested on “immaterial distinctions†and should not be an exception to the rule expounded here. In this case the court refused to determine whether North Carolina had the right to dispute the Nevada court’s procedural finding of domicile as a basis for divorce jurisdiction. This case simply states that North Carolina does not dispute Nevada’s jurisdiction over the proceeding. It was left for a following case, Williams v. North Carolina, 325 U.S. 226 (1945), to decide whether a state may reject a sister state’s procedural finding of jurisdiction over an action.

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