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Sosna v. Iowa

    Brief Fact Summary. The Appellant, Carol Sosna’s (Appellant) request for a divorce was denied because she had not met the one-year residency requirement.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A state has an interest in requiring those requesting a divorce be “genuinely attached” to the state by a showing that they have met the state’s durational residency requirements.

    Facts. The Appellant married Michael Sosna on September 5, 1964, in Michigan. The couple lived in New York between October 1967 and August 1971 but separated. In August 1972, the Appellant moved to Iowa with her three children. In Iowa, the Appellant petitioned for a divorce in the District Court. The District Court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction because the Appellant had not met the one-year residency requirement. The Appellant argued in federal court that the Iowa residency requirement violated the United States Constitution (Constitution). A three-judge court ruled that the Iowa durational residency requirement was constitutional. The judgment is affirmed.

    Issue. Whether Iowa’s divorce residency requirement is constitutional.

    Held. Judge William Rehnquist (J. Rehnquist). Yes. Iowa’s state interest in requiring that those who seek a divorce from its courts be genuinely attached to the State, as well as a desire to insulate divorce decrees from the likelihood of collateral attack, requires a different resolution of the constitutional issue presented than [decided in previous cases]. The judgment is affirmed.
    A state has a right to place requirements on the Appellant’s divorce because the divorce affects the husband, the wife, as well as the children. Iowa has an interest in not “intermeddling in matters in which another State has paramount interest . . . .”

    Dissent. The dissenting opinions are as follows:
    Justice Byron White (J. White). The case before the court has become moot.
    Justice Thurgood Marshall (J. Marshall). The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) has departed from its usual treatment of durational residency cases. In analyzing the divorce statute and its durational residency requirement, the Supreme Court applies an “ad hoc” balancing test. “Any classification that penalizes exercise of the constitutional right to travel is invalid unless it is justified by a compelling governmental interest . . . .”

    Discussion. Although the Supreme Court may have struck down durational residency requirements as a qualification for welfare payments, [Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618 (1969)]; for voting, [Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330 (1972)]; and for medical care, [Memorial Hospital v. Maricopa County, 415 U.S. 250 (1974)], the Supreme Court has distinguished this case because the Appellant was not “irretrievably foreclosed from obtaining some part of what she sought.” Under the residency requirement, the Appellant would eventually gain “the same opportunity for adjudication.”


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