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"Actively Pursing College Education" Includes NOT Going
As Per Mass. Court of Appeals
When it Comes to More Child Support Payments For the Massachusetts Bureaucracy to Get Kickbacks From The Federal Government on there really is no stopping judges from defining words any way they see fit. This includes even judgments already handed down by other countries.

You’re the judge.  There’s an agreement that has been incorporated into a judgment (so it becomes a judgment itself).  The agreement reads:

“Father agrees to pay $100.00 per week for the support of the child until emancipation of the child. Emancipation of the child shall occur or be deemed to have occurred upon . . . a. attaining the age of 18 years, except that if the child is actively pursuing a college education, emancipation will not occur until the child has completed her college course in the normal course or attains the age of 21 years, whichever comes last" (emphasis supplied).”

Turns out the child was not enrolled in school, the mother did not tell the father, and the father states the mother committed contempt by failing to notifying him that child was not enrolled in school, and that he wanted his money back. (Remember, normally, you can retro-actively modify a support order.)   If you think the mother was in contempt, you would not be in agreement with the Court of Appeals. If you think the expression, “except that if the child is actively pursuing a college education” is unambiguous, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals begs to differ. 

The court basically ruled that since the child could re-enter school, she might be “actively pursuing a college education,” even though she wasn’t, well, actively pursuing a college education (to use an expression that I would call, well, plain, unambiguous, and unequivocal). Oh, and for moms that want child support when the child is not really in college—my advice is to just keep some college brochures around the house and say the child is really thinking about going.  The reader may not know but Massachusetts is one of very few states that provide for child support payments beyond the age of 18.

OK, guy gets a divorce in another country.  Foreign country does not give wife property in property division. Normally, if the foreign country had a valid claim to jurisdiction, the foreign decree is honored. As the court actually noted, “In light of those foreign judgments of divorce, and on consideration of the parties' affidavits, the judge terminated the wife's proceeding in Massachusetts, concluding that the doctrine of comity required that the foreign judgments receive recognition; that the wife's action was barred by principles of res judicata; and that the court could not exert jurisdiction over the person of the husband in any event.” Hey, foreign court had jurisdiction, wife’s complaint for divorce was dismissed, so the wife can’t come to an American court to get property not given to her by the foreign court, right?  WRONG.
The appeals court stated, “We conclude that the Massachusetts courts may permissibly exercise jurisdiction over the person of the husband. With respect to the husband's defense based on principles of res judicata, specifically claim preclusion, we hold that the wife's post-divorce complaint under G. L. c. 208, § 34, is not barred because there has been no previous determination with respect to her economic claims. That being the case, the doctrine of comity is inapplicable. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings in the trial court.”

 So, apparently when a foreign court does not award property in a divorce, a subject that is so intertwined with the divorce that nobody but the Massachusetts Court of Appeals could possibly consider a truly “different subject,” U.S. courts are free to add additional terms to the foreign judgment.

If you are looking for some coherent rule of law that this case teaches, I can only say that if foreign courts aren’t specific about the usual appurtenances of a divorce, (property division, child support) beware, the Massachusetts Court might fill the void.  Principles of comity or res judicata will not stop you.

Oh, and one other point, though the couple left Massachusetts for another country for two years, the court ruled that there is still jurisdiction under Massachusetts Long Arm Statute (Long Arm Statutes give jurisdiction over people that are not within the state.):

Nor are we persuaded that a jurisdictional defense emerges because the wife lived with the husband for periods of time in Bahrain between 1994 and 1996. Since the revision of G. L. c. 223A, § 3(g), in 1993, there has been no requirement under this part of the long-arm statute that the parties' marital residence in Massachusetts be recent.(7) The Commonwealth's power to adjudicate with respect to the husband's obligations arose as the result of a marriage with a duration principally in Massachusetts. The wife did not surrender her rights under Massachusetts law, nor did our courts lose their authority with respect to the husband, merely because the parties attempted to preserve the marriage in Bahrain, then separated permanently when the marriage disintegrated. We are satisfied that both the long- arm statute and due process considerations permit the exercise by the Massachusetts court of jurisdiction over the person of the husband, and we accordingly turn to the other defenses.

RINALDO’S NOTES: The argument by the Mass Court of Appeals that Mass had jurisdiction might have some validity.  The problem is that the court had to really show that the marriage was “irretrievably broken” WHEN THE COUPLE WAS STILL IN MASSACHUSETTS.  The court glosses over this issue—apparently they lived on as a couple for another two years after living in MA. So did the marriage really irretrievably breakdown in MA? I don't think so.  The case for issue preclusion is stronger, since Turkey did state, "the Respondent's further right of claim for compensation of pecuniary loss and mental anguish is duly reserved." However, the principles of comity--respect for proper foreign tribunals--is weak in this case.  When a court takes a divorce case, it usually takes the whole thing.  (The issue of modification is an entirely different matter. There, weird division can and do occur.)
The Massachusetts Court of Appeals ruled, “While each judgment contemplates the possible assertion of future claims by the wife, neither specifies whether such claims are to be pressed in the forum that rendered the judgment or instead can be asserted elsewhere.”

This notion is totally foreign to me, no pun intended. I have never heard of Massachusetts adjudicating the child support part of a case, while New York does the property division part, while Florida does the child custody part, while Arizona does the underlying cause for divorce, while Texas does alimony.  Clearly Turkey is being treated differently than other sister states. The court is probably right that the doctrine of res judicata does not apply, but what is troubling is their ruling on jurisdiction and principles of comity.  This “let us fix your divorce judgment for you” mentality is a bit odd—it does not sound like comity to me. 

The court finally concluded: “Because the foreign tribunals did not adjudicate any economic entitlements that the wife might have,(9) we are not concerned with the possibility of issue preclusion, where an issue of fact "actually was litigated and determined in a prior action between the parties or their privies, and . . . the determination was essential to the decision in the prior action."

Here’s the case: