The Maryland Court of Special Appeals addressed a recent argument made numerous times before in virtually every U.S. state: if a couple is married overseas, particularly in a religious marriage ceremony, then the couple must also divorce overseas. In the case of Melki v. Melki, the couple married in an Orthodox Christian ceremony in Lebanon. The couple then began residing in Montgomery County, Maryland and ultimately the Wife filed for divorce years later in Maryland. Dr. Melki, the Husband, fought the divorce, and among his numerous arguments was that Lebanon was the only appropriate jurisdiction that could divorce the couple (i.e., that Maryland has no subject matter jurisdiction).
As the Maryland COSA indicated, “‘[A]n essential element of the judicial power to grant a divorce, or jurisdiction,’ is that one spouse be domiciled within the state at the time the complaint was filed. … A court must have jurisdiction of the res, or the marriage status, in order that it may grant a divorce. The res or status follows the domicils of the spouses; and therefore, in order that the res may be found within the state so that the courts of the state may have jurisdiction of it, one of the spouses must have a domicil within the state. A “domicile” is the place with which a person “has a settled connection for legal purposes” and the place where the person has a “true, fixed, permanent home, habitation and principal establishment, without any present intention of removing therefrom, and to which place [the person] has, whenever . . . absent, the intention of returning. … A party’s “domicile, generally, is that place where [the party] intends to be.” [citations omitted] In fact, the Court concluded that both spouses are Maryland domciliaries.
Dr. Melki also argued that Lebanese law applies to the parties’ marriage, therefore, as a matter of comity, the parties’ Maryland divorce should be vacated. However, “[t]he local law of the forum determines the right to a divorce . . . because of the peculiar interest which a state has in the marriage status of its domiciliaries.” Comity might have applied if the Maryland court had been asked to defer to a Lebanese proceeding or recognize a Lebanese judgment, but neither was asked of a Maryland court because there was no Lebanese proceeding nor any Lebanese judgment.
In the end, Dr. Melki’s arguments were rejected, and the divorce stands.