Enforcement of foreign judgments in domestic matters

A client recently asked whether a Washington state court would enforce a foreign judgment from another country in a domestic relations matter.  The Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgments Recognition Act (Chapter 6.40A RCW) does not apply to a judgment for divorce, support, or maintenance, or other judgment rendered in connection with domestic relations. RCW 6.40A.020(2)(c).

However, the savings clause in that Act permits recognition of a foreign judgment under principles of comity. RCW 6.40A.090. The comity doctrine allows a court in Washington state, acting within its discretion, to give effect to the law and resulting orders of another jurisdiction out of deference and respect, considering the interests of each jurisdiction.

For enforcement to be recognized, the foreign court must have had jurisdiction and there must have “been opportunity for a full and fair trial abroad before a court of competent jurisdiction, conducting the trial upon regular proceedings, after due citation or voluntary appearance of the defendant, and under a system of jurisprudence likely to secure an impartial administration of justice between the citizens of its own country and those of other countries, and there is nothing to show either prejudice in the court, or in the system of laws under which it was sitting, or fraud in procuring the judgment.”

If a foreign judgment is so contrary to the laws and policies of this state that enforcing it will seriously interfere with the state’s policies or laws or is prejudicial to the state’s interests, then comity does not apply. However, a mere fact that the law of a foreign jurisdiction and Washington’s own law are different does not establish a violation of Washington’s public policy.

From the caselaw I have examined, Washington courts will try to apply comity to a foreign court’s order. The reason is that comity is a doctrine of practice, convenience and expediency which involves exercising respect for and deference to the legal determinations of another country.  A party desiring to defeat the enforcement of a foreign judgment will have a heavy burden of proof to convince a court in Washington not to recognize the decision of the foreign court.   However, if a foreign court entered a judgment in violation of the principles of comity and enforcement is being sought against a party in Washington state, speak to an attorney to analyze the situation as you may have a good defense to enforcement.