Husband (an Indian Citizen residing in the U.S. on an H1-B visa) and Wife (a South African citizen) married in South Africa in January 2012 in a Muslim ceremony. In 2013, Wife joined her Husband in the U.S. on an H-4 visa. That same year, the Husband sought U.S. permanent residency (based on employment) and the Wife sought the same (based on marriage). Their applications were approved in February 2014, proximate to the birth of their daughter. Towards the end of 2015, the Wife and child were planning an extended trip to South Africa. A day before the trip, Wife consulted with a lawyer, who told her that her marriage was not recognized in South Africa, and, consequently, Ohio law conferred no parental rights on the Husband. While in South Africa, Wife obtained Husband’s consent to register the child’s birth in South Africa. Shortly thereafter, she advised Husband that she and the child would not be returning to the U.S. On February 9, 2016, Husband sought a divorce and custody in Ohio, and, a month later, filed an application to return the child to the U.S. under the Hague Abduction Convention. Wife unsuccessfully tried to dismiss the Ohio case, claiming the couple was not legally married in South Africa because they only had a Muslim marriage. Prior to a trial in the Ohio proceedings, the spouses reached a partial agreement, leaving only custody and support to be litigated. The South African courts ordered the minor child returned to the U.S., and ordered certain undertakings, essentially saying that if Wife decided to also return to the U.S., the return order would be stayed until the parties could engage in litigation in Ohio to resolve housing, support, and parenting time between the spouses. Both parents appealed. The Ohio court divorced the couple, ordered a parenting plan in line with the shared plan offered by the Father, denied spousal support, and ordered child support. Wife appealed, and the case was remanded. While waiting on remand, the High Court in South Africa concluded that the parties marriage was not legally recognized in South Africa. Because the marriage was not legal, parentage was not established, and therefore the Father had no right of custody, and as a consequence, the Wife’s retention of the child in South Africa was not wrongful under the Hague Abduction Convention. Wife appealed the Ohio court case after this South African order.
Wife argued that the trial court abused its discretion in denying her motion for relief from judgment. She argued that she had newly discovered evidence (the South African order). However, the Ohio Court concluded that legal determinations made after judgment was entered is not newly discovered evidence. Wife also argued that she is entitled to relief because “once the South African Court determined the validity of the parties’ Muslim-rite marriage…, the trial court was obligated to accept that determination under the doctrine of lex loci contractus.” While the trial court declined to apply lex loci contractus when it determined that the South African marriage was valid, it did not state its basis for declining to do so. Therefore, Wife’s appeal is affirmed in part on this basis, and the matter remanded for the court to state its basis, or for further consistent proceedings.