Maryland Court of Appeals Upholds Decision to Allow Divorce by Phone

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In a landmark decision, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled this week that a marriage conducted over the phone can be terminated by the same method, according to a report from the Washington Post.

The unique divorce case centered on the saga of Noel Tshiani, who was living in Africa in 1993 when he married his wife, Marie-Louise Tshiani, in a ceremony that was held over the phone.

During the ceremony, which took place in Maryland, Noel Tshiani’s cousin stood in for the absent groom, while Noel answered questions and listened to the priest’s instructions over the phone.

Sources say the wedding involved a large exchange of gifts, including a goat, money, and clothes, between the two families, and the wife soon flew to Africa to join her husband, who works for the World Bank.

But a few years ago, Marie-Louise decided to file for divorce, claiming that her husband was abusive, but her efforts were thwarted when her husband claimed that he did not know he was ever married.

The judge, however, refused to buy this claim, especially since the couple had recently renewed their vows, filed joint tax return, and gone through the process of obtaining green cards thanks to their married status.

As a result, the trial judge granted the wife’s request for a divorce, and ordered Noel Tshiani to pay $6,000 per month in child support, alimony, and other expenses.

This week, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed the validity of this decision, saying that a marriage in which “one party participates by proxy” is still valid, and thus the dissolution of the marriage over the phone was also a lawful action.

The court also noted that recent research on “distant marriages” shows that it sometimes “may be a couple’s only option,” particularly when one party is a member of the military or works in a different state.

Sources indicate that this court’s decision mirrors findings made by courts in other states that have upheld the validity of marriages forged under unique circumstances.

According to Marie Louise’s divorce attorney, the court’s opinion “makes it clear that the public policy of Maryland is very much to be in support of marriage, regardless of how it’s done.”

Indeed, family laws across the country are designed to make marriage more appealing to couples. And recent changes to divorce law have attempted to make it easier for married couples to split up, as well.

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