Monday, June 06, 2011

Summary 2011 WY 90

Summary of Decision June 6, 2011

[SPECIAL NOTE: This opinion uses the "Universal Citation." It was given an "official" citation when it is issued. You should use this citation whenever you cite the opinion, with a P.3d parallel citation. You will also note when you look at the opinion that all of the paragraphs are numbered. When you need to provide a pinpoint citation to a quote the universal portion of the citation will use that paragraph number. The pinpoint citation in the P.3d portion will need to have the reporter page number. If you need assistance in putting together a citation from this, or any future opinion using the Universal Citation form, please contact the Wyoming State Law Library and we will provide any needed assistance]

Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court

Case Name: Christiansen v. Christiansen

Citation: 2011 WY 90

Docket Number: S-10-0252


Appeal from the District Court of Niobrara County, Honorable Keith Kautz, Judge

Representing Appellant (Plaintiff): Tracy L. Zubrod of Zubrod Law Office, Cheyenne, Wyoming; Mary Elizabeth Galvan of Galvan & Fritzen, Laramie, Wyoming

Representing Appellee (Defendant): No brief filed.

Date of Decision: June 6, 2011

Facts: Appellant and Appellee Christiansen are both residents of Wyoming. They were legally married in Canada in 2008. Appellant filed an action for divorce in Wyoming in February 2010. The district court determined it did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to entertain an action to dissolve a same-sex marriage. Accordingly, the district court dismissed the action.

Issues:  Whether a WYoming district court has subject-matter jurisdiction to entertian a divorce action to dissolve a same-sex marriage lawfully performed in Canada.
Holdings: District courts are endowed with broad subject-matter jurisdiction. District courts in Wyoming are courts of superior and general jurisdiction. They derive their judicial powers from the Wyoming Constitution art. 5, § 1 which states “The judicial power of the state shall be vested in the senate, sitting as a court of impeachment, in a supreme court, district courts, and such subordinate courts as the legislature may, by general law, establish and ordain from time to time.” Wyo. Stat. 20-2-104 (2009) expressly places subject-matter jurisdiction to entertain divorce proceedings with the district courts. The pivotal question is whether the fact that this is a same-sex couple strips the district court of the subject-matter jurisdiction it would otherwise enjoy to entertain a divorce proceeding.

The district court found dispositive Wyo. Stat. 20-1-101, defining marriage as a contract between a man and a woman. Since a same-sex couple is incapable of entering into a marriage as defined by § 20-1-101, the district court reasoned there was no marriage to dissolve. However, Wyo. Stat. 20-1-111 (2009) provides that “[a]ll marriage contracts which are valid by the laws of the country in which contracted are valid in this state.” The district court’s ruling thus creates a conflict between Wyo. Stat, 20-1-101 and 20-1-111.

Such a conflict does not exist in the context of a divorce proceeding. Wyo. Stat. 20-1-101 and 20-1-111, both relating to the creation of marriage, can coexist in harmony in the context of the instant divorce proceeding. Section 20-1-101 prevents a same-sex couple from entering into a marital contract in Wyoming. It does not speak to recognition of a same-sex marriage validly entered into in Canada. Section 20-1-111, on the other hand, expressly allows for the recognition of a valid Canadian marriage in Wyoming. On their face, the two sections treat different situations and as such do not conflict.

It is recognized that the rule set out in § 20-1-111 is not absolute. Under common law, this rule of validation is subject to certain recognized exceptions, namely, marriages which are deemed contrary to the law of nature as generally recognized in Christian countries, such as polygamous and incestuous marriages, and those which the legislature of the state has declared shall not be allowed any validity, because contrary to the policy of its laws. However, the policy exception is necessarily narrow, lest it swallow the rule. It is not enough that a marriage would not be valid if solemnized in Wyoming. Common law marriages provide a good example. Common law marriages entered into in this state are invalid. Yet, the validity of common law marriages entered into in foreign jurisdictions has been recognized for limited purposes. Likewise, recognizing a valid foreign same-sex marriage for the limited purpose of entertaining a divorce proceeding does not lessen the law or policy in Wyoming against allowing the creation of same-sex marriages. A divorce proceeding does not involve recognition of a marriage as an ongoing relationship. Indeed, accepting that a valid marriage exists plays no role except as a condition precedent to granting a divorce. After the condition precedent is met, the laws regarding divorce apply. Laws regarding marriage play no role.

Specifically, the parties are not seeking to live in Wyoming as a married couple. They are not seeking to enforce any right incident to the status of being married. In fact, it is quite the opposite. They are seeking to dissolve a legal relationship entered into under the laws of Canada. Respecting the law of Canada, as allowed by § 20-1-111, for the limited purpose of accepting the existence of a condition precedent to granting a divorce, is not tantamount to state recognition of an ongoing same-sex marriage. Thus, the policy of this state against the creation of same-sex marriages is not violated.

Two Wyoming residents are seeking a legal remedy to dissolve a legal relationship created under the laws of Canada. Nothing in Wyoming statutes or policy closes the doors of the district courts to them. The district court has subject-matter jurisdiction to entertain their petition for divorce.

Reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

The court made it clear that its analysis was expressly limited to the issue before it. Nothing in this opinion should be taken as applying to the recognition of same-sex marriages legally solemnized in a foreign jurisdiction in any context other than divorce. The question of recognition of such same-sex marriages for any other reason, being not properly before the court, is left for another day

J. Golden delivered the opinion for the court.

No comments:

Check out our tags in a cloud (from Wordle)!