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STAMBAUGH v. STAMBAUGH. STAMBAUGH V. STAMBAUGH (10/16/74)

decided: October 16, 1974.

STAMBAUGH, APPELLANT,
v.
STAMBAUGH. STAMBAUGH V. STAMBAUGH, APPELLANT



Appeals from order of Superior Court, Oct. T., 1972, No. 745, affirming decree of Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, No. 12855 of 1966, in case of Esther S. Stambaugh v. J. H. William Stambaugh.

COUNSEL

Garland D. Cherry, with him John W. Nilon, Jr., and Kassab, Cherry & Archbold, for appellant at No. 178, and appellee at No. 179.

Harold Cramer, with him Richard B. Schiro, and Mesirov, Gelman, Jaffe & Levin, for appellant at No. 179, and appellee at No. 178.

Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Manderino. Mr. Justice Nix took no part in the consideration or decision of this case. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts.

Author: Manderino

[ 458 Pa. Page 149]

Esther S. Stambaugh and J. H. William Stambaugh were married in 1935 and resided in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, until they separated on July 13, 1966. About three months after the separation, on October 18, 1966, the wife commenced an action in Delaware County requesting a decree of divorce from bed and

[ 458 Pa. Page 150]

    board. That action was still pending when the husband, who had moved to Florida in 1966, commenced an action in Florida on February 20, 1969, requesting a divorce from the bond of matrimony. On March 14, 1969, the Pennsylvania court in which the wife's action was pending, entered an order enjoining the husband from proceeding with his action for divorce in Florida and further enjoined the husband from proceeding with any action in any other jurisdiction. The Florida action continued, nonetheless, and on June 26, 1969, a final decree of divorce was entered in Florida. Subsequently, the wife's Pennsylvania action was concluded and on March 21, 1972, the Pennsylvania court entered a final decree (1) declaring that the marriage contract was not affected by the Florida divorce decree, (2) granting the wife a divorce from bed and board, (3) awarding alimony pendente lite of four hundred fifty dollars per week, effective March 6, 1970, and (4) awarding permanent alimony of three hundred seventy-five dollars per week effective at the termination of the award for alimony pendente lite.

Both parties appealed to the Superior Court. That court unanimously held that the husband's Florida divorce decree was entitled to full faith and credit since the husband was domiciled in Florida. It therefore ordered a modification of that portion of the final decree declaring that the marriage contract was not affected by the Florida decree. The Superior Court, however, was divided on whether the wife was entitled to alimony. Stambaugh v. Stambaugh, 222 Pa. Superior Ct. 360, 294 A.2d 817 (1972) (Judge Hoffman dissenting, joined by Judges Jacobs and Cercone). Both parties filed petitions for allowance of appeal which were granted by this Court.

The first issue raised in these appeals is whether Pennsylvania should give full faith and credit to the Florida divorce decree. We conclude that it must and,

[ 458 Pa. Page 151]

    therefore, affirm the Superior Court order as to that issue.

It is well established that once Florida has granted a divorce decree that decree is presumptively valid in this jurisdiction. Esenwein v. Commonwealth ex rel. Esenwein, 325 U.S. 279, 89 L.Ed. 1608, 65 S. Ct. 1118 (1945); Williams v. North Carolina (II), 325 U.S. 226, 89 L.Ed 1577, 65 S. Ct. 1092 (1945). Such a decree is "a conclusive adjudication of everything involved therein except the jurisdictional facts on which it is founded . . .," Commonwealth ex rel. McVay v. McVay, 383 Pa. 70, 73, 118 A.2d 144, 146 (1955), and bona fide domicile is the essential jurisdictional fact necessary to give any decree extraterritorial effect. See Williams v. North Carolina (I), 317 U.S. 287, 297-98, 87 L.Ed 279, 285-86, 63 S. Ct. 207, 212-13 (1942); Commonwealth ex rel. McVay v. McVay, supra; Commonwealth ex rel. Meth v. Meth, 156 Pa. Superior Ct. 632, 41 A.2d 752 (1945). Additionally "the burden rests heavily" upon the party attacking the decree to show that jurisdiction was in fact lacking. Williams v. North Carolina (II), 325 U.S. 226, 233, 89 L.Ed. 1577, 1584, 65 S. Ct. 1092, 1097 (1945). See Commonwealth ex rel. Lorusso v. Lorusso, 189 Pa. Superior Ct. 403, 150 A.2d 370 (1959); Commonwealth v. Petrosky, 168 Pa. Superior Ct. 232, 77 A.2d 647 (1951); Commonwealth ex rel. Meth v. Meth, 156 Pa. Superior Ct. 632, 41 A.2d 752 (1945).

Here the trial court found that the husband had not established a valid domicile in Florida and therefore his Florida decree was not entitled to full faith and credit. The Superior Court unanimously reversed that determination. The wife asserts that since the trial court found that her husband was not a Florida domiciliary, the Superior Court was powerless to alter that finding of fact. The issue of domicile, however, is a mixed question of law and fact reviewable by an appellate court. In Dorrance's Estate, 309 Pa. 151, 156, 163

[ 458 Pa. Page 152]

A. 303, 304 (1932), this Court held: "The determination of . . . domicile . . . is a conclusion of law, based upon facts, most of which are undisputed. Furthermore . . . where a finding of fact is simply a deduction from other facts reported by the tribunal under review, and the ultimate fact in question is purely the result of reasoning, we are competent to judge of its correctness and will draw our own conclusions from the facts as reported." Accord, Smith v. Smith, 364 Pa. 1, 70 A.2d 630 (1950).

The record establishes that the husband, upon moving to Florida, purchased a home there and resided in Florida for about two years before instituting his divorce action. He registered his automobile in Florida and enrolled himself as a voter there. He also opened a bank account in Florida, joined a church and several civic organizations, and paid Florida taxes. Apparently because his business remained in Philadelphia the husband found it necessary to retain certain contacts in Pennsylvania. Consequently he maintained a personal checking account in Philadelphia, filed his personal federal income tax return from Philadelphia, and maintained various charge accounts and club memberships in Philadelphia. After securing his divorce decree in Florida and remarrying he immediately leased an apartment for a one year term in Philadelphia, which he occupied when not in Florida. The evidence adduced was inconclusive regarding exactly how much time he actually spent in Pennsylvania and how much time he spent in Florida. Upon this evidence the Superior Court determined that the wife had failed to meet her burden of establishing that her husband was not a Florida domiliciary.

The wife argues, however, that because the evidence indicates her husband was living in Pennsylvania a "substantial" part of the period in question he was not actually a valid domiliciary of Florida. It is well

[ 458 Pa. Page 153]

    settled, though, that a person may maintain business interests outside the state of his domicile and in fact live outside of his domiciliary state as long as he possesses the requisite intention to return to that state. Smith v. Smith, 364 Pa. 1, 70 A.2d 630 (1950). In Smith, this Court was presented with a similar factual situation where the husband had many business interests outside of Florida, his adopted domicile, including some interests in Pennsylvania. He also spent about half of his time living outside of Florida. There, this Court held that such facts did not preclude a finding that the husband was a bona fide Florida domiciliary. We therefore agree with the Superior Court's determination that the husband was a bona fide domiciliary of Florida. Accordingly, the Florida divorce decree may not be denied full faith and credit because, here, valid domicile in the state rendering the decree, the essential jurisdictional prerequisite, was in fact present.

The wife also argues that Pennsylvania should deny full faith and credit to the Florida divorce decree since it was obtained by the husband after the issuance of an anti-suit injunction by the trial court which had personal jurisdiction over the husband. We cannot agree.

The only proper basis for denying full faith and credit to an out-of-state divorce decree is lack of jurisdiction. "A judgment in one State is conclusive upon the merits in every other State, . . . if the court of the first State . . . had jurisdiction . . . to render the judgment." (Emphasis added.) Williams v. North Carolina (II), 325 U.S. 226, 229, 89 L.Ed. 1577, 1581, 65 S. Ct. 1092, 1095 (1945); Commonwealth ex rel. McVay v. McVay, 383 Pa. 70, 73, 118 A.2d 144, 146 (1955). The jurisdiction of a state to enter a divorce decree is dependent solely upon the domicile of one spouse. Williams v. North Carolina (I), 317 U.S. 287, 87 L.Ed. 279, 63 S. Ct. 207 (1942); Williams v. North Carolina (II), supra;

[ 458 Pa. Page 154]

    we reversed a contempt citation against a spouse who had proceeded with a divorce action and obtained a valid divorce decree in Arkansas after the issuance of a Pennsylvania anti-suit injunction. In Wallace v. Wallace, 371 Pa. 404, 411, 89 A.2d 769, 772 (1952), we reversed an injunction, and gave full faith and credit to a Florida divorce decree, saying: "The record shows that not only was defendant capable of establishing a domicile in Florida but also that he ...


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