Friday, September 18, 2009

Salvador Guzman responded to 2002 divorce petition by describing 16-year marriage as bigamy; lost at trial and on appeal, but won at TN Supreme Court

Courts disagreed on double-barrelled name, too

On July 12, 2005, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled that the then-$4.1 million empire of successful Nashville businessman Salvador Guzman had to be shared with his ex-wife and children. On July 11, 2006, the Supreme Court of Tennessee reversed, adopting Mr. Guzman's argument that the 16-year relationship had been a bigamous marriage and was therefore void, but the Supreme Court awarded child support and "remanded for a determination of the existence of an implied partnership between the parties." The final determination on that "partnership" issue is not available on the web site where the two opinions above are found.

The history is that Himelda Fuentes filed for divorce from Salvador Guzman in September 2002, and Mr. Guzman sought to annul the couple's 1986 marriage by saying that it was invalid under Mexican law, on the basis of Fuentes' having been married in a civil ceremony in 1982 that wasn't ever terminated by divorce. The Court of Appeals ruled that the Tennessee marriage was valid, regardless of how it would be treated in Mexico, and thus the family assets were marital property. The trial court had also rejected Guzman's argument and had awarded Ms. Fuentes and the children approximately $800,000 in assets. The Court of Appeals upped that amount to $1,500,000.

The Supreme Court's declaration of a bigamous marriage ended the divorce petition after a four-year battle, with Guzman winning on the issue that there never was a marriage under Tennessee law, and therefore no marital property to distribute. Whether there was a "partnership" does not appear to have been litigated back up to the appellate level.

Double-barrelled name: "Mr. Guzman" or "Mr. Alvarez"?

The primary issue is interesting - namely, the cross-border effect of marriages and divorce. Less significant to the parties but curious nonetheless is the different abbreviations used by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals referred to the parties as "Husband" and "Wife." They also referred to Mr. Guzman as "Mr. Guzman," dropping this footnote:
Although Mr. Guzman is designated as Salvador Guzman Alvares in the style of this case, we will refer to him either as Husband or Mr. Guzman, as that is the name he has used since emigrating to the United States.
The Supreme Court, however, abbreviated the name of Salvador Guzman as "Mr. Alvarez," dropping a footnote to explain that
Since emigrating to the United States, Mr. Alvares has used the name 'Salvador Alvares Guzman.' We shall refer to Mr. Alvares as his name appears in the complaint for divorce.
That footnote appears to have been intended as a direct correction of, or even an expression of disapproval of, the Court of Appeals' use of "Mr. Guzman." The Supreme Court appears to have assumed that his surname is the single "Alvares" and not a double-barrelled name, which is common practice throughout the world, and usually employed in the U.S. as a hyphenated last name. Double-barrelled names are more commonly unhyphenated in Mexico, which both courts knew to be the home country of the parties. Reviewing the full name used in the complaint - "Salvador Guzman Alvares" - the Supreme Court appears to have disregarded the possibility that the surname might be "Guzman Alvares" and that the only proper abbreviation of such a double-barrelled name would be "Guzman" and not "Alvares."

At the end of the day, it is up to the parties to clarify whether there is a double-barrelled name at issue, and what the proper abbreviation would be. I wonder what the attorneys used as abbreviations for their own clients in the papers filed with the courts - that would seem to be the best way to give the courts some guidance on the issue.

Just like Rachel and Andrew Jackson, without the duels

Edited to add that the marriage of Himelda Fuentes and Salvador Guzman draws a historic parallel to the marriage of Tennessee's own Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, and his wife Rachel. The Tennessean's Jennifer Brooks reported in 2010 that
Most of the 13 duels [Andrew] Jackson participated in over the years started because someone pointed out that Rachel Jackson was not, technically, divorced from her first husband at the time she remarried.

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