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Texas Court Did Not Acknowledge Mexican Divorce Due to Procedural Issues

Divorce can be complicated when the parties are citizens of different countries.  Each party may feel a divorce in the other’s country may be unfair to them.  There may be issues regarding jurisdiction.  Furthermore, even after one country issues a divorce, the other country may not recognize it.  A husband recently challenged a Texas divorce after a Mexican court had already granted a divorce.

The parties married in 1986 in Texas.  The husband is a Mexican citizen and the wife is a U.S. Citizen.  They had residences in both countries during their marriage.  Their business was in Mexico, but the wife and daughter lived in Texas at the time of the Texas divorce proceedings.

The husband filed for divorce in Mexico in 2015.  The wife challenged jurisdiction, arguing jurisdiction was in Texas because that is where the parties lived.  The Mexican court granted the divorce in April 2016.

The wife petitioned for divorce in Texas in August 2016.  At a hearing in 2018, the wife testified she and the husband agreed he would pay monthly financial support, with an additional amount for several months to help her buy a car. She said she was to receive another vehicle and a duplex in the property distribution, and the husband had agreed to pay for repairs of both.  She also said he agreed to pay for classes so she could get her real estate license.

The husband used a translator during the hearing.  He testified he understood the proceedings.  He also testified he agreed to what the wife stated.  The trial court ruled in accordance with their agreement.

After the hearing, however, the husband claimed he had not fully understood.  He did not think he could afford what the court ordered him to pay.  He was afraid he would not be able to provide for the child.  He obtained new counsel, who filed a plea to the jurisdiction.  He argued the Texas court did not have jurisdiction because the parties had been divorced in Mexico.  The trial court did not rule on the plea.

Several months later, the trial court signed a final divorce decree.  The husband did not move for a new trial, but moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction after the court’s thirty-day plenary power expired.  The trial court did not take any action on the motion.  The husband appealed, arguing the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction because the parties were already divorced.

The appeals court noted the trial court was not aware of the Mexican divorce case at the time of the hearing.  Neither party mentioned the Mexican divorce in their testimony, and it was not referenced in the wife’s petition.  The wife’s pleadings stated she was domiciled in Texas for the previous six months.

The wife’s attorney questioned the husband and confirmed he understood the wife’s testimony.  The husband also expressed his agreement to the property division and financial support the wife mentioned in her testimony.  No one mentioned the previous divorce during the hearing.

When the husband filed his plea to the jurisdiction, he attached several untranslated documents.  He argued on appeal that the court should have taken judicial notice of those documents and should have admitted them.

The appeals court noted that Tex. R. Evid. 203 requires a party to give notice at least 30 days before trial of the intent to raise foreign laws.  They must also provide copies of both the foreign language text and the translation of any written materials in a foreign language at least 30 days before trial.  The recognition or enforcement of a foreign judgment in a divorce proceeding, however, is governed by Rule 308(b) of the Tex. R. of Civ. P., not Rule 203 of the Tex. R. Evid.  Under Rule 308(b), a party who wants a foreign divorce recognized must give written notice to the court and parties describing the court’s authority to recognize the foreign judgment, within 60 days of the original pleading.  A party objecting to the recognition or enforcement of the foreign judgment must give written notice of the reason for their opposition within 30 days.  The court must then conduct a hearing.

The husband in this case did not provide the notice.  He also did not serve the wife with a copy of the foreign documents and a translation at least 45 days before trial, as required by Tex. R. Evid.  1009 for them to be admitted into evidence.

The appeals court noted that the Mexican divorce issue was not raised until July 31, 2018, when the hearing had occurred on February 20, 2018.  The husband did not provide a translation of the Mexican divorce documents and an expert’s affidavit on Mexican law until November 30, 2018, after the trial court lost its plenary power.  The appeals court noted that due to this timing, the trial court was not given an opportunity to take judicial notice or determine Mexican law when it could have done so.  The appeals court found the husband had not complied with the procedural rules to allow the trial court to consider the Mexican divorce and determine if it had subject matter jurisdiction.

The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s Final Decree of Divorce.

The procedural issues here prevented the court from considering the husband’s arguments.  Additionally, it appears there were misunderstandings and miscommunications, potentially due to language barriers, even though a translator was used during the proceeding.  McClure Law Group has a thorough understanding of Texas family law procedures.  Additionally, we have fluent Spanish speakers to help ensure clear communication with Spanish-speaking clients.  If you are considering the possibility of a divorce that could have international implications, you should seek the advice of a skilled Texas divorce attorney as soon as possible.  Call 214.692.8200 to schedule a consultation.

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