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Colombo District Court recognizes Sri Lankan marriage divorced in USA

11 Jun 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

  • Verdict underscores the evolving nature of matrimonial law in an interconnected world

By Lakmal Sooriyagoda

In a landmark judgement, the Colombo District Court has held that a foreign decree of a marriage contracted in Sri Lanka can be recognized and enforced in Sri Lanka. Accordingly, the Colombo District Court issued a decree of dissolution of marriage in favour of a plaintiff living in California by upholding international legal standards relating to marriage laws.

 Colombo District Court Judge R.A.M. Rajapakse delivered this judgement in favour of the plaintiff, facilitating him in obtaining a single status certificate. This case centres around the marriage of two Sri Lankan nationals, which was legally recognized in Sri Lanka. After moving to the United States, they decided to dissolve their marriage and initiate divorce proceedings there.  The plaintiff encountered an impediment when he needed proof of being single from Sri Lanka to remarry in Fiji.

Senior Counsel Ian Fernando, appearing for the plaintiff, informed the court that his client had already obtained a divorce in America and wanted to remarry in Fiji, having a spectacular wedding. The government of Fiji required the plaintiff to have proof of single status from his country of origin, Sri Lanka.

The plaintiff sought an order through the Sri Lankan legal system, requesting the court to recognize and enforce the decree of divorce issued in the United States. The plaintiff wanted to obtain a certificate proving single status for remarriage in Fiji and to invalidate the existing marriage certificate in Sri Lanka.

In essence, this verdict underscores the evolving nature of matrimonial law in an interconnected world, where legal frameworks must adjust to meet the needs of global citizens.

Senior Counsel Ian Fernando with Counsel Dinusha Amarasinghe and Hasith Liyanage instructed by Derek Fernando Associates appearing for the plaintiff submitted to court emphasizing the importance of the single status certificate in moving forward with their life plans and to obtain the divorce in Sri Lanka on the strength of the American judgement of the divorce case already obtained.

The Court of Appeal in its recent judgment (CA/WRIT/266/2021) held that a District Court in Sri Lanka is not restricted from accepting a valid document proving the dissolution of a marriage issued by a competent court in another country. However, the Court of Appeal held that this acceptance must be subject to the guidelines spelt out by the court and the provisions of the law relating to evidence.

The first guideline is to ascertain whether the law of such a country has conferred the jurisdiction to the respective court to dissolve marriages entered into in a foreign territory. Secondly, it is essential that both parties who entered into the contract of marriage in Sri Lanka have been residing in the respective country, for a reasonable period of time when applying for a divorce. Thirdly, both the husband and wife should actively participate in such divorce proceedings in a foreign court while being subjected to the procedure adopted in such a court concerning matrimonial actions.