We have seen a variety of U.S. immigration cases where an individual is denied U.S. citizenship because a prerequisite to their application was someone’s valid divorce. For example, see the recent case of Mr. Adjei whose wife was not considered legally divorced from her first husband under Ghananian law because neither spouse was domiciled in Ghana at the time of the divorce. This meant she remained legally married to her first spouse, at least under the eyes of U.S. law, and her new spouse, Mr. Adjei, could not then seek citizenship on the basis of his marriage to her.
This case is a bit different, however. Mr. Jaffal was requesting derivative U.S. citizenship under 8 USC 1432(a). In other words, he sought his citizenship on the basis that he was a child, born outside of the United States, and, while under the age of 18, the parent who had legal custody of him was naturalized while that parent was legally separated. Mr. Jaffal argued that his parents were legally separated (i.e., divorced) by a court in Jordan, and the same court granted his father sole custody of him. His father then became a naturalized U.S. citizen when Mr. Jaffal was age 17.
In this case Mr. Jaffal’s parents divorced in Jordan in a unilateral divorce under Shari’a law. Mr. Jaffal’s father pronounced a divorce, which, after the requisite waiting period, was affirmed by a judge in Jordan. During the divorce process in Jordan, both of Mr. Jaffal’s parents were domiciled elsewhere. In Mr. Jaffal’s case, however, the court concluded that both Ohio and Jordan had authority over the parents’ marriage, and so Jordan’s exercise of jurisdiction to issue a final divorce decree satisfied the court that the Jordanian divorce was proper. The government actually didn’t argue domicile on appeal in this case. Its argument focused on the fact that Mr. Jaffal’s father obtained the Jordanian divorce unilaterally, and a unilateral divorce should not be recognized as a matter of public policy. The Third Circuit concluded, however, that it has recognized unilateral divorces in the past (citing an example of the recognition of a unilateral Peruvian divorce), so that was not a fatal flaw.
Because the U.S. never challenged the validity of the divorce, the Third Circuit concluded that Mr. Jaffal’s parents were “legally separated” at the time of Mr. Jaffal’s father’s naturalization.