The California Court of Appeals affirmed a trial judge’s conclusion that the parties’, Ms. Marchoud and Mr. Elali, marriage, while valid under Lebanese law, was void as a matter of public policy in California as being bigamous.
Ms. Marchoud was married to Mr. Elali in Lebanon in August 2012. At the time of their marriage, Mr. Elali was already married to Mrs. Elali in California. In August 2014, Ms. Marchoud filed a petition in the California courts requesting spousal support, without requesting the dissolution of their marriage. She alleged that, in May 2014, Mr. Elali abandoned her, and left her without any support. In August 2014, Mr. Elali filed a response, objecting to her request for support, arguing that his marriage to Ms. Marchoud was a temporary marriage contract in Lebanon, and that he terminated that contract on June 10, 2014 under Muslim law. He further argued that Ms. Marchoud was fully aware at the time of his marriage to Ms. Marchoud that he remained legally married to Mrs. Elali in California.
At trial, the judge concluded that the Lebanese marriage was valid under the law of the situs (Lebanon), but the alleged divorce was not to be recognized in California, because Ms. Marchoud had no notice of it and neither party were domiciled in Lebanon (they were domiciled in California at the time of the apparent divorce). This provoked Mr. Elali to file a request to nullify the Lebanese marriage and declare it void or voidable. He later amended this and requested to dissolve the marriage, admitting that he was legally married to Ms. Marchoud. Mr. Elali and Ms. Marchoud later reached an agreement for a lump sum of spousal support.
The case was then reassigned to a new judge. The new trial judge was troubled by the fact that Mr. Elali and Ms. Marchoud’s marriage was bigamous, and, under the California Code should therefore be voided. There were subsequent arguments about res judicata and public policy. The new judge acknowledged the prior judge found a valid Lebanese marriage, but he then argued he had to decide whether or not to nullify the marriage, even though neither party, at the time, was (at least any longer) requesting that the marriage be voided. The new judge concluded that, even though the marriage (bigamous as it was) was valid under Lebanese law, it should not be recognized in California, and therefore should be voided in California.
Ms. Marchoud appealed and argued that the second judge had no authority to supersede an interim ruling by the prior judge, which would then permit litigants to shop judges who would act as an appellate judge over their colleague’s rulings. She further argued that both parties admitted in pleadings that they were legally married.
There is no doubt, based on both judges’ rulings and the parties’ admissions, that the parties were legally married under Lebanese law. Both judges also concluded that the purported divorce under Muslim law was not to be recognized in California given the lack of due process and the lack of domicile in Lebanon by either party. The real question on appeal was the second judge’s further step to determine whether or not the Lebanese bigamous marriage should be recognized as valid in California, or should not be recognized and should be considered void in California as against public policy. The appellate court concluded the second judge correctly took that second step, and was correct in invalidating their marriage in California.