What to Do When Your Divorce Involves Litigation in Maryland and Out of State

A skilled Maryland divorce lawyer can provide crucial assistance in most divorce cases. However, there are some types of cases where the aid of knowledgeable legal counsel is especially crucial, and that includes matters that span across multiple jurisdictions.

For one couple in Baltimore County, their divorce spanned multiple countries. The husband was a dual citizen of the United States and Nigeria. The couple married in the Nigerian capital in 2003 but relocated to Pikesville the next year, where they remained until their separation in 2019.

The wife filed her Maryland divorce petition in late May 2021. Three months later, the husband asked the judge to dismiss the petition. The reason? The husband had already filed a divorce petition in Nigeria in October 2020.

The husband’s central argument was that a set of legal rules known as “comity” applied and required the dismissal of the Maryland case.

Comity refers to a legal doctrine built around the concept of giving effect to the laws and court decisions from other states or countries out of “deference or respect.” Comity has several impacts when it comes to family law. Comity frequently means that a divorce judgment or a marriage entered in another state will be recognized in all other states, even if the marriage/divorce laws of the two states are in conflict. There are exceptions, however, such as when the foreign judgment did not follow basic due process.

Why Comity Didn’t Apply Here

Despite the existence of the Nigerian case, the courts here in Maryland concluded that the wife could proceed with her action in Baltimore County. As the appeals court explained, the existence of a case in an international jurisdiction is not automatically “a bar to the institution of another action between the same parties and for the same cause of action in a state court in the United States.”

Even if the party who filed internationally filed first, that fact alone won’t necessarily preclude proceeding here in Maryland. In this case, the husband, despite having filed his Nigerian petition first, had many things working against him. For one thing, the Nigerian legal system had dismissed the petition (although an appeal was pending) because the trial judge determined that the husband “was not domiciled in Nigeria for purposes of Nigerian matrimonial law,” which meant the Nigerian courts lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the couple’s divorce issues.

Additionally, even if the Nigerian case was not dismissed (or was later reinstated by the appeals court there,) the husband never properly served notice of the Nigerian divorce on the wife, which further bolstered the wife’s position that comity did not apply.

Whether you are seeking to pursue a divorce in Maryland or you need to defend your out-of-state (or international) judgment in this state, you will need to avail yourself of the courts in Maryland. The knowledgeable Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC are here to help. Our experienced legal professionals are here to provide the knowledgeable advice and powerful advocacy you need. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.

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