Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

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Sosna v. Iowa

Citation. Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 95 S. Ct. 553, 42 L. Ed. 2d 532, 1975 U.S. LEXIS 19, 19 Fed. R. Serv. 2d (Callaghan) 925 (U.S. Jan. 14, 1975)

Brief Fact Summary. Appellant moved from New York to Iowa and one month later brought suit for divorce in Iowa. Appellant’s husband challenged the jurisdiction of the Iowa court.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. A durational residency requirement is constitutional in that appellant was not permanently foreclosed from obtaining a divorce and the State’s interests in the requirement are legitimate.

Facts. Appellant, Carol Sosna, married Michael Sosna in 1964 in Michigan. They lived together in New York from 1967 through 1971, after which they separated but continued to live in New York. In August 1972, appellant moved to Iowa, and the following month petitioned the Iowa district court for dissolution of her marriage. Michael Sosna made a special appearance to contest the jurisdiction of the Iowa court. The Iowa court dismissed the action for lack of jurisdiction, finding that Michael was not a resident of Iowa and appellant had not been a resident of the State for one year preceding the filing of her petition as required by an Iowa Statute.

Issue.
Is the Statute unconstitutional because it establishes two classes of persons and discriminates against those who have recently exercised their right to travel to Iowa?

Is the Statute unconstitutional because it denies a litigant the opportunity to make an individualized showing of bona fide residence and therefore denies such residents access to the only method of legally dissolving their marriage?

Held. The Statute passes constitutional muster under both inquiries.
Previous precedent has invalidated durational residency requirements in areas such as qualification for welfare payments, voting, and medical care. However, none of these cases suggested that the States could never impose durational residency requirements. Appellant was not irretrievable foreclosed from obtaining some part of what she sought. Additionally, Iowa’s requirement may be reasonably justified on grounds other than the purely budgetary or administrative considerations claimed in the previous precedent. Such a requirement recognizes that both spouses are interested in the proceedings, avoids officious intermeddling in matters in which another State has a paramount interest, and minimizes the susceptibility of its own divorce decrees to collateral attack.

Furthermore, the failure to provide an individualized determination of residency does not violate the Due Process Clause. Such a determination would be fruitless, as Iowa requires not merely domicile, but residence in the State for a year. Appellant’s claim is not total deprivation of a divorce decree, which has been ruled unconstitutional, but only delay.

Dissent. The majority neglects to address the question of if the right to obtain a divorce is of sufficient performance that its denial to recent immigrants constitutes a penalty on interstate travel. In my opinion, it meets this standard, and Iowa’s durational residency requirement should be scrutinized to determine whether it constitutes a reasonable means of furthering important interests asserted by the State. The majority’s analysis ignores the severity of the deprivation suffered, in that the requirement prevents remarriage and locks both partners into what may be an intolerable, destructive relationship. Furthermore, the critical importance of the divorce process weakens the argument for a long residency requirement, and the protection of a State against invasion by those seeking quick divorces could be protected by a simple requirement of domicile.

Discussion. The majority found that the Iowa’s residency requirement was reasonably justified by legitimate State interests.