In Tshiani v. Tshiani, a Maryland appellate court ruled on the question of whether the trial court was right to recognize a marriage that occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire (hereafter “Congo”). In that case, both the husband and wife were from the Congo.
The wife was 18 and her husband was 35 when they met. They married five months later. However, the husband was not actually present at the marriage because he was on assignment in a different country. His cousin stood in for him at the wedding. They followed the customs of the Congo.
After the wedding, they lived together in Virginia and then Maryland and represented themselves as husband and wife. They bought property in Maryland 1994 and had three kids. They renewed their vows later that year, obtaining a proof of marriage from the Congolese embassy.
The church gave them a certificate attesting that there were witnesses at the ceremony and they were married in conformity both with the laws of Virginia and Zaire. The husband then applied for a “dependency allowance” for his wife his employer the World Bank. She was also added as a beneficiary of his health coverage policy and the husband applied for her green card on the grounds that she was his wife.
Later when his wife filed for divorce, he mostly referred to her has his wife, but at a hearing he equivocated, saying that he hadn’t participated in their marriage and that the Congolese ceremony was not something recognized outside the Congo. The circuit court entered a judgment of absolute divorce, saying that the husband too many actions that demonstrated a valid marriage, including filing joint tax returns, purchasing property as a married couple and referring to her as his wife.
The husband appealed this decision. On appeal, the appellate court divided the case into two parts, a factual question and a legal question. The factual question was whether there was a marriage under Congolese law. The appellate court reasoned that there was a valid marriage in the Congo and that the wife had presented competent evidence of a marriage, including official records, admissions or declarations by husband and wife, and statements of witnesses. The court particularly emphasized the husband’s own repeated statements to authorities that the pair were married.
The remaining question was the legal issue of whether Maryland was required to honor the marriage of a foreign jurisdiction. The court said that the marriage would be honored unless expressly prohibited by the General Assembly or repugnant to Maryland public policy. The husband argued that because he participated by telephone rather than in-person in the wedding, Maryland should not recognize the marriage. The appellate court concluded, however, that neither proxy nor phone marriages were expressly prohibited nor repugnant under Maryland public policy. The court noted that proxy or distance weddings are becoming more common in other states and affirmed the circuit court’s grant of divorce.
If you are dealing with family law matters that relate to other countries, such as the case described above, the well being of your family may depend on hiring a qualified and knowledgeable attorney who can navigate the rules of both family law and immigration law for you. Contact lawyer Anthony Fatemi and his legal team for a legal consultation. They have years of experience in Maryland family law, including matters of divorce, prenuptial agreements, separation agreements, property distribution, custody arrangements, alimony, and domestic violence.
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