U.S. Court Finds French Marriage Valid
We’ve blogged about legal translation services for contentious divorce proceedings, especially ones involving marriages that occurred overseas or between citizens of different countries. In N.B. v F.W, a New York divorce case, the husband moved to dismiss the wife’s divorce complaint on the grounds that the parties were not legally married because their marriage ceremony took place in France and their marriage license contained erroneous information. In turn, the wife filed a motion seeking a declaration that the parties’ marriage was, in fact, valid. The wife also sought costs and sanctions for filing a frivolous motion to dismiss.
Marriage Document Translations from French
In 2005, the parties married in France. After the marriage ceremony, the parties lived in New York and had two children together. Even though the parties were living in New York at the time they married in France, they applied for a Pennsylvania marriage license so that they could request a “self-uniting” or “Quaker” license, which does not require an officiant to conduct the ceremony.
After obtaining the Quaker license the parties flew to France where they exchanged vows in front of family and friends. At the ceremony, the couple signed the marriage license they obtained from Pennsylvania in front of two witnesses. However, the parties erroneously stated that they “self-united” in Pennsylvania instead of in France on the marriage license. After the parties returned to New York, they filed the marriage license in Pennsylvania and obtained a marriage certificate. Thereafter, the parties lived as husband and wife in New York, filed joint tax returns, purchased a home, and shared health insurance. The husband and wife each believed they were legally married. It was not until the husband met with attorneys about the divorce proceeding that he realized the marriage might not be legally valid.
Husband Moves to Dismiss Divorce Complaint
The husband filed a motion to dismiss in which he argued that their marriage was not valid in New York, Pennsylvania, or in France. The wife argued that the husband should be prevented from denying the validity of their marriage pursuant to estoppel principles. Specifically, the wife argued that the husband had signed tax returns affirming that the parties were, in fact, married. In addition, the wife also argued that the husband had not established that their marriage would be invalid under French law or that their error in listing Pennsylvania as the location of their marriage was enough to invalidate the marriage under Pennsylvania or New York law.
Court Rules Marriage in France Was Valid
The court held that simply filing tax returns as a married couple could not create a valid marriage where one did not already exist. However, the court found that the parties’ marriage was, in fact, valid. In analyzing the validity of the marriage, the court considered issues surrounding a conflict of laws. The court explained that it needed to consider whether there was any difference between France, New York, or Pennsylvania law on whether the marriage was invalid. Although the husband argued that French law applied to the dispute, the court held that the husband failed to offer any analysis or information, other than a link to the website for the U.S. Embassy in Paris, on why the marriage would not be valid in France.
The court explained that when parties fail to provide sufficient information to prove the foreign law sought, the parties have consented that the forum law be applied to the controversy.” See Bank of NY v. Nickel, 14 Ad3D 140, 148-149, 789 N.Y.S.2D 95, 101-102 (1st Dept. 2004). Accordingly, the court refused to apply French law to the divorce dispute.
The court also rejected the husband’s argument that the parties were not married under the laws of New York state. The court explained that under New York law, a marriage is not void for failing to obtain a marriage license if the marriage is “solemnized.” The court also explained that New York recognizes “Friends or Quakers” marriages that are solemnized, even though the parties were not members of this religious group themselves. More importantly, the court held, was the fact that the parties held a marriage ceremony and solemnized the marriage before guests and two witnesses. The husband argued that the marriage should not be valid because neither he nor his wife were Quaker or religiously observant, but the court held that “the court cannot deny a benefit or right to a person for not following any particular religious practice” under the Establishment Clause. The court further explained that New York has “a strong presumption of marriage,” particularly when children are involved. Accordingly, the court found that the husband had not met his burden of demonstrating the marriage’s strong presumption of validity under New York law.
Finally, the court held that the husband had also failed to provide the court with ample information that Pennsylvania would invalidate the marriage, either. Importantly, the husband had not presented the court with any case or statute which holds that a defective marriage or a marriage without a license was invalid under Pennsylvania law. The court pointed to a decision in 2008 in which a Pennsylvania state court upheld the validity of a marriage conducted by a Universal Life Church minister ordained over the internet and explained that Pennsylvania has a declared interest in protecting marriage.
In addition to upholding the validity of the marriage, the court granted the wife’s request for $85,000 in interim attorneys’ fees because the husband had access to significantly greater assets than the wife. The court denied the wife’s request for sanctions, however, finding the issues in dispute to be a matter of first impression.
The case N.B. v. F.W, 2019 NY Slip Op 29005, decided on January 4, 2019 in the Supreme Court of New York County.
*****This legal translation article should not be construed as legal advice. You should always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal needs.***
Legal translation services company All Language Alliance, Inc. provides certified English to French translations of marriage licenses, marriage certificates, prenuptial agreements, marital settlement agreements, divorce decrees and divorce certificates, probate documents, and other papers written in legalese, French, and English. Our experienced translators for attorneys, lawyers and law firms are available seven days a week. We also provide French deposition interpreters in U.S.discovery and litigation.
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