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Law School Case Brief

Williams v. North Carolina - 325 U.S. 226, 65 S. Ct. 1092 (1945)

Rule:

Judicial power to grant a divorce -- jurisdiction, strictly speaking -- is founded on domicil. Domicil implies a nexus between person and place of such permanence as to control the creation of legal relations and responsibilities of the utmost significance. The domicil of one spouse within a state gives power to that state to dissolve a marriage wheresoever contracted.

Facts:

Defendants, a man and a woman, domiciled in North Carolina, left their spouses in North Carolina, and went to Nevada where they each promptly filed divorce actions against their respective spouses after satisfying the six-week residency period required for the purposes of securing a divorce in Nevada. The defendants were married immediately after the grants of divorce and then promptly returned to North Carolina. The North Carolina courts refused to acknowledge the validity of the divorces, and defendants were found guilty of bigamous cohabitation in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-183 (1943). Defendants challenged their conviction.

Issue:

Were defendants guilty of bigamous cohabitation, notwithstanding the fact that they obtained divorce from the State of Nevada?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court affirmed the judgment of the lower court, holding that the because the divorces that defendants received in Nevada had no legal validity in North Carolina and their North Carolina spouses were still alive, defendants subjected themselves to prosecution for bigamous cohabitation under North Carolina law. The court held that the United States Constitution did not provide protection under the Full Faith and Credit Clause from such legitimate findings of the state courts.

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