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Williams v. State of North Carolina (II)

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

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    State B may refuse to recognize a divorce decree granted in state A if state B determines the basis of jurisdiction of state A to be unfounded.

    Facts
    Williams (Defendant) and Hendrix (Defendant) were residents of North Carolina.  They moved to Nevada and filed for divorce against their spouses in a Nevada court.  Defendants were granted divorces, the Nevada court finding that each was domiciled in Nevada.  Defendants then married each other and moved back to North Carolina, where they were indicted for bigamy.  Defendants were convicted on the ground that they were not domiciled in Nevada when the divorces were granted and therefore Nevada had no divorce jurisdiction over them.

    Issue
    May state B may refuse to recognize a divorce decree granted in state A if state B determines the basis of jurisdiction of state A to be unfounded?

    Held
    (Frankfurter, J.)  Yes.  A divorce decree is a conclusive adjudication of everything except the jurisdictional facts upon which it is founded, and domicile is a jurisdictional fact.  Therefore, North Carolina may refuse to recognize the Nevada divorces if the North Carolina court determines that Nevada erred in its finding of domicile.  However, the Full Faith and Credit Clause demands that the determination of jurisdiction by one state be given great weight in a sister state.  A jurisdictional finding such as this may be rejected only if the party urging its rejection can overcome the burden of proof and can provide sufficient evidence of lack of jurisdiction.  In this case, the North Carolina trial court appropriately charged the jury that Nevada’s finding of domicile was prima facie evidence of such domicile, but was not conclusive.  Acting under that standard of proof, North Carolina had the right to reject Nevada’s finding of domicile.  Affirmed.

    Discussion
    North Carolina did not question Nevada’s finding that Williams (Defendant) and Hendrix (Defendant) were domiciled in Nevada at the time of their divorces and, therefore, the first Williams case ruled that the divorces granted to them by Nevada must be respected in North Carolina.  In the second Williams case, however, the Supreme Court addressed an issue not present in the former appeal, specifically, whether North Carolina had the power “to refuse full faith and credit to Nevada divorce decrees because, contrary to the findings of the Nevada court, North Carolina finds that no bona fide domicile was acquired in Nevada.â€Â  The Court ruled that North Carolina had such power.  The second Williams case raises the question presented in Colby v. Colby, 78 Nev. 150, 369 P.2d 1019 (1962), cert. denied, 371 U.S. 888 (1962), in which Maryland court had found that a Nevada finding of divorce jurisdiction was improper and invalid.  In spite of Maryland’s decision, the Nevada court upheld the divorce when its validity was questioned there.  The divorce, therefore, was valid in Nevada and invalid in Maryland, a result that seems to obstruct the purpose of the Full Faith and Credit Clause, as discussed in the first Williams case.


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