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Guidance from the UK? Why Family Courts Sometimes Rely on Foreign Law

Law and order in United States courtrooms, with black-robed judges, swearing in, and a hanging national flag, seems inherently American. In legal disputes, it is law made by American politicians and legislators at dispute, informed by the facts of a case that occurred on U.S. soil and influenced by the overarching national Constitution. But in the case of many family law judgments and agreements settled by American judges, adjudicators cite legal precedent or laws from foreign nations, including the United Kingdom, Mexico, and even India. Why would American courts rely on foreign law in family court cases? The short answer is that the notion of the family crosses jurisdictional lines, even national borders, and sometimes that means laws of other nations could be applicable. But for the long answer? Let’s examine landmark family law case Ghassemi v. Ghassemi, a 2008 divorce case that required reference to foreign law.

Ghassemi v. Ghassemi

Ghassemi and Ghassemi were first cousins, born and married in Iran and transplanted to the United States with their one son. In 2006, Mrs. Ghassemi petitioned for divorce. But in order to make a divorce agreement, American courts had a problem: they had to determine whether the Ghassemis were legally married, at all, under American law. In most states (including the Ghassemis’), marriage between first cousins is not legally recognized, and according to the state in which the Ghassemis lived, foreign marriages were to be considered valid unless to do so “would violated a strong public policy”. Whether or not the Ghassemis were legally married therefore depended on whether they were legally married in Iran and whether recognizing a marriage between first cousins would constitute a violation of a strong public policy.

American courts referred not just to Iranian law but also to Canadian, British, and Mexican law in answering those questions. The courts determined that yes, the Ghassemis were legally married in Iran and that no, the marriage was not so contrary to a strong public policy as inspire a refusal to recognize a foreign marriage. And eventually, the Ghassemis did receive their divorce.

While not every family law case involves such contentious legal questions, foreign law is still applicable to a variety of family law cases, including adoption (both domestic and abroad), separation or divorce agreements, alimony, and child support and visitation rights. This means that not only can the logistical side of a family law case be thorny, but also case documents and legal arguments have the potential to become complex, nuanced, and reaching farther beyond even national law.

We Can Help You Today

If you are involved in a family law dispute, such as a divorce or separation, the negotiation of an alimony or child support arrangement, or adoption or legal guardianship assignment, you should know that even the Ghassemis probably believed their case was simple. Every family law dispute is different and carries with it its own complexities, and when it comes to familial relationships and the wellbeing of children, do-it-yourself legal representation simply may not be enough. Contact a Boca Raton attorney at Schwartz l White at 561-391-9943 today for a consultation to ensure that your rights are represented and your interests protected.

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