How do Florida Courts Address Divorce Judgments from Foreign Countries?

Florida Courts are required to recognize judgments of all kinds from other U.S. states, including divorce judgments. In fact, there is a provision in the United States Constitution called the Full Faith and Credit Clause which requires this. But what about judgments, particularly divorce judgments, that come from foreign countries?

There is a legal principle that addresses this issue, called “comity.” A Florida Court is required, as a general rule, to give “comity” (sometimes called “recognition”) to a foreign divorce judgment unless that divorce judgment offends the public policy of the State of Florida.

So, what is the public policy of the State of Florida regarding the recognition of foreign divorce judgments?

Generally, the analysis often turns on questions of fundamental fairness.  For example, was the legal system in which the foreign divorce judgment was rendered fundamentally fair to both parties? Were both parties served with process (court papers) and given notice and an opportunity to be heard? Foreign courts that do not give both parties the chance to appear and participate in the proceedings may not be looked at favorably by courts in Florida. The judgment entered by the foreign court may be denied recognition. In some circumstances, when a foreign divorce judgment is being filed in Florida, the legal system of the foreign country may actually be put on trial with experts on each side giving opinions about the fairness of the foreign legal proceedings.

When it comes to the judgments themselves, meaning the document which determines the outcome of the foreign divorce, there are certain things to look out for when it comes to seeking recognition of such judgments in Florida. First, does the divorce judgment give everything (alimony, distribution of assets, etc.) to one party and nothing to the other? That is generally a red flag to a Florida Court and may result in denying the judgment recognition because it is perceived to be “unfair.”

In sum, lawyers and clients who begin divorce proceedings outside the United States, and who may later seek to have the judgment “recognized” by a Florida Court, would be well advised to consult Florida family law attorneys before the judgment is entered by a foreign court rather than after the fact. Competent Florida family counsel like us are likely to be able to prevent a problem with a foreign judgment before it becomes too late to fix.

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