Sherrer v. Sherrer
334 U.S. 343, 68 S.Ct. 1087, 92 L.Ed. 1429 (1948)

  • Margaret and Edward were married in Massachusetts and lived together for 14 years until Margaret took the kids and moved to Florida, claiming she needed a vacation.
  • Margaret lived in Florida for 3 months and then filed for divorce.
    • Margaret claimed she was a ‘bona fide resident of Florida’, and so Florida had jurisdiction to grant the divorce.
  • Edward got a Florida attorney and contested the divorce. But failed to challenge Florida’s jurisdiction.
    • That’s a general appearance. Edward also drove down and made a personal appearance.
  • The Florida Trial Court found that they had jurisdiction and granted the divorce. Edward did not appeal.
    • The Florida Trial Court accepted Margaret’s contention that she was domiciled in Florida.
  • A few months later, Margaret married in Henry in Florida and moved back to Massachusetts.
    • Under the ruling in Williams v. North Carolina (317 U.S. 287 (1942)), Massachusetts has to give full faith and credit to Florida divorce decrees.
  • Edward sued in Massachusetts, claiming that the Florida divorce was not valid and therefore Margaret’s marriage to Henry was void.
    • Under the ruling in Williams v. North Carolina (325 U.S. 226 (1945)), a State can challenge whether or not another State had jurisdiction.
  • The Massachusetts Trial Court found that Margaret was never domiciled in Florida, and therefore Florida’s divorce decree was not valid. Margaret appealed.
    • At the time, in order to obtain a divorce in a State you had to be legally domiciled in that State. In general that means that you have to live there for a specific period of time and have the intent to remain there.
      • Margaret probably never intended to stay in Florida, she was just looking for a State with quicky divorce laws.
  • The Massachusetts Supreme Court affirmed. Margaret appealed.
    • The Massachusetts Supreme Court found that the requirements of full faith and credit did not preclude Massachusetts from reexamining the finding of domicile by the Florida Court.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that Edward appeared in the Florida Court and failed to raise the issue.
      • Therefore he missed his chance (aka res judicata).
    • The Court found that there needs to be a finality to a divorce decree, and it isn’t good public policy to permit a situation where one State (Florida) finds a couple divorced, and another State (Massachusetts) finds them still married. Therefore there is an obligation for States to apply full faith and credit to divorce decrees.
      • Otherwise, there could be sticky situations. If Margaret and Henry lived in Massachusetts, they would not be married, but if they stayed in Florida they would be. That adds a lot of confusion. What if Margaret dies? Who would inherit?
  • Basically, if you make a general appearance, or hire an attorney to make an appearance in a State to contest the divorce, that State automatically gets jurisdiction to grant a divorce. You can no longer go to another State and claim that the granting State did not have jurisdiction to grant the divorce.
    • Edward should have made a special appearance, which would not have been a submission to Florida jurisdiction.