?28 years ago, Irfan Aleem of Pakistan was 29 years old and studying for his Ph.D. at Oxford. In an arranged marriage, he wed Farah, who was 18 at the time and had just graduated from high school. The premarital agreement provided that Irfan would pay Farah $2,500 in the event of a divorce.
Irfan and Farah lived together in London, then moved to Maryland in 1985. They had two children, both born in the United States, who are now 19 and 22 years old. Irfan works at the World Bank.
Unfortunately, they did not live happily ever after. Farah filed for a divorce from Irfan in March of 2003 in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Maryland. Irfan filed for divorce in Pakistan through the Pakistan embassy. The Pakistani divorce was completed before the Maryland divorce, and Farah was denied a share of Irfan’s World Bank pension.
The Maryland Court finished its divorce proceedings in June 2006, finding the Pakistani decree invalid, and ordered Irfan to share his pension with Farah.
Irfan appealed to the Court of Appeals of Maryland.
Irfan claims that the Maryland courts must abide by international comity and defer to the Pakistani decree. His lawyer argued that denying a pension share to an ex-wife is not so fundamentally contrary to Maryland’s laws and policy so as to render the foreign decree invalid. He noted that Maryland courts have upheld divorce decrees from other states that have denied one ex-spouse a share of the other’s income.
But Judge Lynne A. Battaglia said Maryland courts are by no means bound by a foreign country’s family-law decisions. The principle of international comity, under which deference to foreign rulings is generally given, is not absolute and may be suspended when the overseas ruling profoundly contradicts a state’s policy, Battaglia said. The judge said the duty of one state to give full faith and credit to the divorce decree of a fellow state is rooted in the Constitution, but the principle of international comity is a diplomatic gesture not binding on other countries.