Kazin v. Kazin
81 N.J. 85, 405 A.2d 360 (1979)

  • Clara and Jesse were married for 13 years. Jesse left to go live with another woman.
    • He asked for a divorce, but Clara refused (this was back in the days before no fault divorce).
  • A few months later, Clara met Michael and wanted to marry him. The pair went down to Mexico where Clara got a divorce decree from a Mexican Court.
    • Jesse didn’t have a problem with this. In fact, he made a deal with Clara not to pay any alimony because Michael had promised to take care of her.
  • Clara and Michael were married in New Jersey. A few years after that Clara moved out and filed for divorce against Michael in New Jersey.
  • Michael countered that he couldn’t get a divorce from Clara because he was never legally married to her.
    • Michael argued that the Mexican divorce was not legal, so his marriage to Clara was void.
      • The divorce was ex parte.
    • Clara argued that she had acted in reliance of the divorce and so it should be given full faith and credit in New Jersey.
  • The Trial Court found that the Mexican divorce was not legal.
    • The Trial Court found that the divorce was invalid, so Clara’s marriage to Michael was void.
    • The Court found that Michael was estopped from attacking the validity of the Mexican divorce because he accepted his marriage as valid for years. (although the court could (and did) raise the issue sua sponte).
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
  • The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed.
    • The New Jersey Supreme Court found that Michael had knowingly participated in Clara and Jesse’s divorce, and had accepted the benefits of his subsequent marriage. Therefore it would be against public policy to allow Michael to weasel his way out of his obligations by attacking the validity of the previous divorce.
  • Basically this case said that, under certain conditions, if all the parties act in reliance of a legal fact (Clara’s divorce), and accept that legal fact as being true, then those parties cannot later turn around and say that the legal fact is untrue (aka estoppel).
    • Note that the Court did not consider whether the Mexican divorce was legal or not. As far as they were concerned, as long as the parties acted as if it were legal, then for all practical purposes it was legal.
      • Btw, there is a strong presumption that a marriage is valid. In order to challenge it, you need clear and convincing evidence that the marriage was invalid.
  • If Clara had lost, she might have still been able to get something from Michael as a putative spouse.