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Sosna v. Iowa

Citation. 419 U.S. 393, 95 S.Ct. 553, 42 L.Ed.2d 532 (1975).
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Citation. 419 U.S. 393, 95 S.Ct. 553, 42 L.Ed.2d 532 (1975).

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff challenged one-year residency requirement after she was denied a divorce.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A one-year residency requirement is constitutionally permissible because a state has an interest in requiring those seeking a divorce be genuinely attached to the state.


Plaintiff married in Michigan and then moved to New York with her husband. The marriage fell apart and Plaintiff moved to Iowa. She requested a divorce one month later. Plaintiff’s petition was dismissed because she did not meet the one-year residency requirement for divorces. She filed suit, challenging the validity of the statute.


Whether Iowa’s divorce residency requirement is constitutional.


Yes. Iowa’s divorce residency requirement is constitutional.


Justice White

I find the case has become moot and thus dissent.

Justice Marshall

The Court today departs sharply from case precedent. As we have made clear, any classification that penalizes exercise of the constitutional right to travel is invalid unless it is justified by a compelling government interest. Instead, however, the Court is applying ad hoc balancing to uphold Iowa’s statute. It makes me concerned for future cases.


A state may quite reasonably decide it does not wish to become a divorce mill for unhappy spouses who have lived there as short of a time as Plaintiff. This is precisely the sort of determination that a state in the exercise of its domestic relations is entitled to make.

Unlike our previous cases, Plaintiff was not irretrievable foreclosed from obtaining what she sought. She would eventually qualify. This makes the case different from Shapiro, which struck down a residency requirement for welfare recipients on equal protection grounds. Judgement affirmed.

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