Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

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Topic /161
In Re Marriage of Kimura

Citation. In re Marriage of Kimura, 471 N.W.2d 869, 1991 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 222 (Iowa June 19, 1991)

Brief Fact Summary. Ken and Fumi were married in Japan and Ken subsequently moved to Iowa. Ken filed for divorce in Iowa, and Fumi contested the personal and subject matter jurisdiction of the Iowa district court.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. Rather than minimum contacts, domicile continues to be the basis for a court’s jurisdiction to grant a dissolution of marriage decree. However, under the divisible divorce doctrine, the court will not necessarily have jurisdiction to adjudicate other incidents of the marriage, such as alimony.

Facts. Ken and Fumi Kimura were married in Japan in 1965, and both are Japanese citizens. Ken graduated from medical school in Japan, and is currently a pediatric surgeon in Iowa. In 1986 he was invited to come to the United States on a temporary H-1 work visa. The medical center where he worked filed an application on Ken’s behalf for permanent residency status, which he received in 1987. In 1988 he filed a divorce mediation proceeding with the family court in Japan. In July he withdrew because he could not attend the court’s reconciliation proceeding because of work. In December he filed a petition for dissolution of marriage in Iowa, alleging that he had resided there for more than one year, that his residency was not just for the purpose of obtaining a dissolution, and that a breakdown of the marital relationship had occurred. Because personal service was not possible on Fumi in Iowa, a copy of the petition was mailed to her in Japan and notice of the petition was publishe
d three times. In February 1989 Fumi filed a preanswer motion contesting the district court’s personal and subject matter jurisdiction. The court concluded Ken satisfied residency requirements and dissolved the marriage. Fumi appealed.

Issue. Did Iowa’s assertion of jurisdiction over respondent, who had no contacts with Iowa, or her marriage based solely on petitioner’s alleged residence in Iowa violate the due process clauses of the United States and Iowa Constitutions?

Held. Iowa’s assertion of jurisdiction based upon the residency of respondent’s husband was constitutional.
Traditional due process requires that a defendant have certain minimum contacts with the forum state, and the contacts must be such that the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. There must be a connection between the forum, the litigation, and the defendant. Precedent has held that the marriage status is a res, and thus, a “thing” to which the court’s jurisdiction can attach.

The United States Supreme Court has held that full faith and credit must be given to a foreign divorce decree where only one spouse was domiciled in the foreign state and the other spouse never lived there due to the foreign state’s high interest in the marital status of its domiciliaries. The Court did required that service on the absent spouse meet due process standards and be reasonably calculated to give the absent spouse actual notice and opportunity to be heard. The Supreme Court did not view dissolution proceedings as in rem actions or as mere in personam actions. According to the Court, the domicile of one spouse within the forum state gave that state the power to dissolve the marriage regardless of where the marriage occurred.

Later Supreme Court precedent developed the divisible divorce doctrine, holding that a state could change the marital status of those domiciled within its boundaries, but could not wipe out the absent spouse’s claim for alimony under a foreign state’s judgment. This doctrine recognizes a court’s limited power when the court has no personal jurisdiction over the absent spouse.

Based on this precedent this court concludes that jurisdiction to grant dissolution of marriage proceedings is not to be tested by the minimum contacts standard. Domicile continues to be the basis for a court’s jurisdiction to grant a dissolution of marriage decree.

Fumi contends that even if minimum contacts is not the standard, Ken did not establish that he met the residency requirements. To do so Ken had to establish that he resided in Iowa for at least one year prior to filing the petition and that his residence was in good faith and not just for the purpose of obtaining a marriage dissolution. To establish residence one must have a fixed habitation with no intention of leaving it. A new domicile is established if: 1) the former domicile is abandoned; 2) there is an actual removal to, and physical presence in the new domicile; and 3) there is a bona fide intention to change and to remain in the new domicile permanently or indefinitely. Ken has established these residency requirements, and a foreign citizenship does not bar a person from establishing a domicile or residence in such cases.

Fumi finally contends that the district court should have declined jurisdiction based on forum non conveniens, arguing Japan is the more convenient forum and the nation with the most significant contacts. To establish forum non conveniens, the moving party must show that the relative inconveniences are so unbalanced that jurisdiction should be declined on equitable basis. Whether to apply the doctrine lies within the sound discretion of the district court. Although Japan has a variety of ways to dissolve a marriage, it has been suggested that obtaining a nonconsensual divorce is difficult, if not impossible. Based on the relative jurisdictions, the court was well within its discretion to deny Fumi’s request to decline jurisdiction.

Discussion. Special jurisdictional rules are applicable to divorce proceedings, with the traditional minimum contacts analysis being inapplicable. Residency must be established for jurisdiction in divorce proceedings, and forum non conveniens may be argued if another jurisdiction is more convenient.