In a decision by the Appellate Court of Connecticut, Juma v. Aomo, Judge Sheldon ruled that the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction over the action for dissolution of marriage. The defendant in the case argued that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction by way of three separate motions to dismiss. Each motion containing the same argument, that he had already commenced an action for dissolution of marriage in Kenya, and that the parties’ marriage could only be dissolved by the Kenyan courts.

Over three years, 3 separate judges heard the motion and ruled the same. That the trial court had jurisdiction over the action due to domicile of the parties. When speaking on whether a foreign court had jurisdiction the court noted “regardless of its validity in the nation awarding it, the courts of this country will not generally recognize a judgment of divorce rendered by the courts of a foreign nation as valid to terminate the existence of a marriage unless, by the standards of the jurisdiction in which recognition is sought, at least one of the spouses was a good faith domiciliary in the foreign nation at the time the decree was rendered.”

Acquiring a Domicile

The defendant argued the parties were indeed domiciled in Kenya as they moved from there to Connecticut not too long ago and were in Kenya when he attempted to institute the divorce proceeding. The court noted that “to constitute domicile, the residence at the place chosen for the domicile must be actual, and to the fact of residence there must be added the intention of remaining permanently; and that place is the domicile of the person in which he has voluntarily fixed his habitation, not for a mere temporary or special purpose, but with the present intention of making it his home….this intention must be to make a home in fact, and not an intention to acquire a domicile.”

In this case the more prevalent standard was to look at if the defendant was simply in Kenya to get a more advantageous divorce proceeding. The court again noted “where … it becomes highly advantageous to the claimant temporarily to feign an intention to become a resident for only a brief time, in order to accomplish other ends, his claim of intention will be scrutinized and weighed like any other evidence in the light of his conduct and all the circumstances surrounding it.”

The Marriage Dissolution

The parties in the case had been residing in Connecticut at the time of the proceeding. The defendant had moved to the US in 1997 and his wife followed in 2007. The couple’s second child was born in the US in 2007 and the defendant became a naturalized citizen in 2008. The naturalization relinquished his Kenyan citizenship until he became a dual citizen in 2010, after the proceeding occurred. The court found the defendant to be a US citizen at the time of the proceeding, and that he, his wife, and their two children had been domiciled in Connecticut.

When the couple’s marriage began to break down the court determined it was due to extramarital affairs by the defendant. During this time, he had a divorce petition prepared and brought the family to Kenya on vacation. The court found that he brought them to Kenya mainly because he wanted to avail himself to obtaining a divorce there. A Kenyan divorce would have resulted in a more favorable monetary distribution for defendant.

The Court’s Findings

Once in Kenya, the defendant tried to serve his wife, the plaintiff, at her mother’s house unsuccessfully. He even changed the date of his wife’s return flight so she would be forced to stay in Kenya until the proceeding was over. Once the wife heard of this, she immediately left the country in order to not be served. The court found this to be a bad faith attempt by the defendant to obtain domicile in Kenya.

Defendant even testified in the proceedings that he was not planning on returning to Kenya after the divorce and that he planned to live in the US for an indefinite period of time. The court found that he clearly claimed to be domiciled in Kenya to solely take advantage of their divorce laws and therefore denied his motion to dismiss for the third straight time.

Written by Kyle M. Buonocore

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