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Case law update: international divorce precludes subsequent divorce in America

This case law update focuses on the Ashfaq v. Ashfaq case out of Houston’s 1st District Court of Appeals. The question involved whether a divorce previously granted under the laws of Pakistan was effective to preclude a later-filed divorce in Texas.

Husband and Wife were married in Pakistan and lived there a short while until Husband returned to Texas. Wife remained in Pakistan for 2 years before she was granted a visa and was able to join Husband in Texas. Less than a year later, the couple returned to visit Pakistan and Husband had Wife’s parents take her to their home. Husband announced his intention to divorce her and returned to Texas. After the Pakistan divorce was final, Wife moved to Houston. Husband remarried another woman from Pakistan. A month after Husband’s second marriage, Wife filed for divorce in Houston.

Trial proceeded on Wife’s divorce petition in Texas, where Husband introduced evidence of Pakistani divorce laws through an expert witness in Pakistani law. The expert testified that a resident of Pakistan may obtain a divorce there, and a resident is anyone who maintains Pakistani citizenship, regardless of where the resident currently lives. It was undisputed that Wife was a Pakistani citizen and Husband had dual US and Pakistani citizenship. To obtain a divorce under Pakistani law, the husband must pronounce “talaq” (translated “I divorce you”) three times, then provide notice to the Wife and the Chairman of the Union Council. This provides the Wife opportunity to seek reconciliation and if, after 90 days, the parties have not reconciled, they are divorced. If the husband offers and the wife accepts return of her dowry, then the Wife has indicated her acceptance of the divorce and cannot later deny its validity. The expert testified that Husband followed the procedural requirements and the divorce was proper. He also testified that Wife accepted the return of her dowry.

The trial court determined that the Pakistani divorce was valid and dismissed the divorce. The trial court treated the rest of Wife’s pleading as a post-divorce petition to divide property and granted judgment. Wife appealed, arguing that Texas had jurisdiction over the divorced and Pakistani law should not have been recognized. The court of appeals noted that the US federal government recognizes the Pakistani procedure as valid proof of marital status for immigration purposes. Therefore, the judgment of the trial court dismissing the divorce for failure of jurisdiction was upheld. The court of appeals pointed out that Pakistani divorce procedures have been recognized as valid proof of marital status for immigration purposes, and in this case, the federal government must have recognized this divorce because it issued Husband’s new wife a visa.

This is a good case to review when addressing an international divorce case.

Ashfaq v. Ashfaq, __ S.W.3d __, 2015 WL 1925832 (Tex. App. — Houston [1st Dist. 2015, no pet. h.).