Sosna v. Iowa
419 U.S. 393, 95 S.Ct. 553, 42 L.E.2d 532 (1975)

  • Carol and Michael were married in New York and lived together for 3 years. Carol moved to Iowa with the kids and filed for divorce.
    • Michael went to Iowa and made a special appearance to contest Iowa’s jurisdiction.
  • The Iowa Trial Court dismissed the divorce petition. Carol appealed.
    • The Iowa Trial Court found that they did not have jurisdiction because Michael was not an Iowa resident, and Carol had not lived in Iowa for one year.
    • Iowa has a jurisdictional residency requirement that says you have to live there fore one year before you can file for divorce. This is separate from the requirement that you be domiciled in Iowa.
      • A person can establish a domicile in a State very quickly, as long as they can show that the live there and they have intent to remain there.
  • The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed. Carol appealed.
    • Carol argued that the Iowa law was unconstitutional for two reasons:
      • First, it establishes two classes of people and discriminates against those who recently moved to Iowa.
        • The courts had previously held the residency requirements were unconstitutional with regards to being able to collect State benefits and registering to vote.
      • Second, it denies a person the right to make an individualized showing or residency and so denies them the ability to get a divorce, so it was a denial of due process.
        • Basically, since Carol was domiciled in Iowa, if she couldn’t get a divorce there, she couldn’t get a divorce anywhere.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court noted that 48 States had a residency requirement of some length.
    • The Court did a balancing test and found that the legitimate State interests outweighed the inconvenience to Carol.
      • The Court noted that she wasn’t being denied the ability to divorce, it was only being delayed.
        • Therefore it wasn’t a due process issue.
      • The Court found that there were consequences to the State in issuing divorce decrees, and so they had an interest in having a residency requirement.
        • Unlike the voting and welfare benefits cases where the courts found that the only interest the State had was budgetary considerations and administrative convenience.