Request for Advance Decision Regarding Foreign Divorce

B-205185: Nov 24, 1981

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An advance decision was requested on whether two members of the Navy could properly be considered husband and wife for purposes of computing their pay and allowances and establishing their eligibility to dependents benefits. One of the members had married after obtaining a divorce in Bermuda. The Navy subsequently questioned the validity of the divorce for the purpose of authorizing disbursement of Government funds based upon a subsequent marriage in the absence of a decision relative thereto granted by a court of competent jurisdiction in the United States. GAO has held that, where the validity of a marriage is dependent upon the dissolution of a prior marriage by a divorce of questionable validity, the marital status of the parties is too doubtful to serve as a proper basis for any payment of public funds. However, in situations where the divorcing parties reside in a foreign country for an extended period, where it appears that the foreign court granting the divorce has jurisdiction over the subject matter of the divorce, and where the divorce would be considered valid in the United States, GAO has held that the validity of the subsequent remarriage by one of the parties is not subject to question. The Bermudian jurisdictional requirements and the requirements for proof of grounds for divorce were substantially similar to those imposed by American States. Furthermore, both parties in the divorce had resided in Bermuda for 2 years prior to the initiation of the suit. Therefore, there appeared to be no basis for a conclusion that the Bermudian court lacked jurisdiction in the matter. It was the view of GAO that the divorce in question would be recognized as valid by the State courts. Therefore, GAO concluded that the divorce and subsequent marriage were to be considered as legally valid and binding by the accounting officers of the Federal Government.