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Where the wife is not subject to its jurisdiction, the Nevada divorce court has no power to extinguish any right that she has under the law of New York to financial support from her husband. A court cannot adjudicate a personal claim or obligation unless it has jurisdiction over the person of the defendant.
The parties, formerly husband and wife, separated in 1952 while living in California. In February, 1953, the wife moved to New York where she resided thereafter. In March, 1953, the husband filed suit for divorce in Nevada. The wife was not served with process in Nevada and did not appear before the divorce court. These proceedings resulted, in June, 1953, in a final divorce decree releasing both husband and wife from the bonds of matrimony and all of the duties and obligations thereof. Subsequently the wife instituted an action in the Supreme Court of New York for separation and alimony. While the New York court found the Nevada decree valid and held that it had effectively dissolved the marriage, it nevertheless entered an order, under the pertinent New York statute, directing the husband to make designated support payments to the wife. The support order was upheld by the Appellate Division and by the Court of Appeals. The husband applied for certiorari, and argued that his Nevada divorce decree, which terminated the marriage and destroyed any duty he owed his wife, was entitled to recognition under the Full Faith and Credit Clause. The husband argued that the alimony order violated the terms of his divorce decree.
Did the Nevada divorce decree extinguish the wife’s right, under the law of New York, to financial support from her husband?
The Court held that that the Nevada divorce court had no power to extinguish any right which the wife might have under the law of New York to financial support from her husband because the wife was not served with process and was not subject to the personal jurisdiction of the Nevada divorce court. The Court reasoned that the divorce court could not adjudicate a personal claim or obligation unless it had jurisdiction over the person of the wife. The Court concluded that the Nevada decree, to the extent that it purported to affect the wife's right to support, was void and the Full Faith and Credit Clause did not obligate New York to give it recognition. The Court also held that Thompson v. Thompson, 226 U.S. 551, insofar as it held that an ex parte divorce destroyed alimony rights, was no longer controlling.