How does Washington handle cases involving out-of-country marriages and divorces?

Understanding Washington State's Approach to International Marriages and Divorces

Washington State, like many jurisdictions, recognizes the complexities involved in cases pertaining to international marriages and divorces. The state's approach to these matters is governed by a combination of domestic laws and international principles designed to navigate the intricacies of cross-border relationships.

International Marriage Recognition in Washington

In Washington, a marriage legally performed in another country is generally recognized as valid, provided it does not violate the fundamental provisions of state law. For example, parties must meet age requirements and not be closely related by blood, as dictated by Washington statutes. This principle of comity—a legal doctrine that allows for the recognition of laws, judgments, and decisions of other jurisdictions in the spirit of mutual respect—ensures that international marriages are given due consideration.

Divorce Proceedings Involving International Elements

When it comes to divorce, Washington applies its own laws regarding the dissolution of a marriage. Nonetheless, certain conditions must be met for a Washington court to have jurisdiction over an international divorce matter:

These factors can significantly complicate proceedings. For instance, the division of overseas property might require cooperation from foreign legal systems. Similarly, when children are involved, international custody disputes may invoke the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which seeks to protect children from wrongful removal across international boundaries.

Cases Reflecting Washington's Legal Precedents

A notable example is the case Kawashima v. Holder, where the United States Supreme Court ruled on the deportation implications for a Washington resident based on a conviction in Japan. Although not about marriage or divorce directly, this case illustrates how international matters are considered under U.S. law.

Enforcing Foreign Divorce Decrees

For foreign divorce decrees to be recognized in Washington, they must be considered final and conclusive under the laws of the issuing country. The decree must also meet procedural fairness standards and not contravene public policy. It is important for individuals with foreign divorce decrees to seek legal advice to understand how such decrees will be enforced within Washington State.


In summary, while Washington courts endeavor to respect international marriages and divorces, they are bound by their own legal parameters when addressing such cases. Those facing transnational marital issues should consult with an attorney experienced in international family law to navigate these complex waters effectively.