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Marriage by Telephone

Noel Tshiani and Marie-Louise Tshiani met in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1993 when he was 35 and she was 18.  They decided to get married in the Congo, but on the wedding day, he was on assignment by the World Bank in another African country.  So he appointed his cousin to stand in for him and he participated by telephone.

They lived together first in Arlington, Virginia, then in Potomac, Maryland, and had three children together.  After about 15 years of marriage, Tshiani filed for divorce claiming that Noel was abusive.  The court in Montgomery County, Maryland awarded her alimony, child support, attorney fees and divided the martial property.

Noel appealed arguing that the marriage by telephone was not valid in the Congo and that it should not be recognized by Maryland.  Therefore, the divorce decree was invalid.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals found that a marriage by telephone was legal in the Congo.  It also held that Maryland would recognize the marriage under the principles of comity.  Under that doctrine, state will give effect to orders and actions of foreign states out of deference and respect.  Therefore the divorce was proper and the decree was affirmed.

Tshiani v. Tshiani

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