Washington Law Review


It will be recalled that in Williams v. North Carolina, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the fact of domicile as a jurisdictional factor for divorce may be questioned abroad when the matter of full faith and credit is in issue there. On the same day that this case was decided, a majority of the Court arrived at the same conclusion in the case of Esenwein v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Except for the concurring opinion of Justice Douglas, the Esenwein case would have no particular significance. The background facts were similar to those in the second Williams case. The husband and wife had lived in Pennsylvania. The husband secured a Nevada divorce without, so it was contended, acquiring a domicile in that state. However, the question to be decided was whether the divorce superseded a pre-existing support order granted the wife in Pennsylvania after the separation of the couple and some time before the husband's departure for Nevada, rather than, as in the Wililams case, one of liability to criminal prosecution for bigamous cohabitation of a spouse who had secured a divorce in a state where he had not acquired a domicile. To a majority of the Supreme Court the rationale of the Williams case applied. The Nevada decree was not entitled to full faith and credit. As a consequence, the decision by the Pennsylvania courts that the support order had not been superseded by the Nevada decree was upheld. To Justice Douglas, who it might be noted joined in the dissent in the second Williams case, the matter involved was quite different. He would have required that the Nevada decree be given full faith and credit insofar as the respective personal marital duties of the spouses might be concerned but not insofar as interspousal property claims (including a prior support order) might be involved. The matter came before

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