In response to questions certified by this Court, the Florida
Supreme Court advised that, although an award of alimony purporting
to bind the husband's estate was not proper under Florida law, in
the absence of an express prior agreement between the spouses, the
failure of the husband, now deceased, to appeal permitted the
decree to become final, and it is not subject to collateral attack.
Accordingly, the West Virginia courts, in probating the husband's
estate, must, under the Full Faith and Credit Clause, give the
decree as broad a scope as Florida does.
147 W.Va. 269, 127
, reversed and remanded.
Petitioner, Marguerite Loretta Aldrich, was granted a divorce
from M. S. Aldrich by the Circuit Court of Dade County, Florida, in
1945. The jurisdiction of that court to award the divorce was not
contested then, nor is it contested in this action. M. S. Aldrich
was ordered by the Court to pay petitioner $250 a month as
permanent alimony, and the decree provided that
"said monthly sum of $250.00 shall, upon the death of said
defendant [husband], become a charge upon his estate during her
[petitioner's] lifetime. . . ."
There was no prior express agreement between the parties that
the estate would be bound. Subsequently, the husband petitioned the
Florida court for a rehearing, which was denied, but the
Page 378 U. S. 541
court reduced alimony from $250 to $215 per month. No appeal was
taken by either party.
M. S. Aldrich died testate, a resident of Putnam County, West
Virginia, on May 29, 1958. His will was duly probated in Putnam
County, and petitioner filed a claim against the estate for alimony
which had accrued after the death of her former husband. The
appraisal of the estate showed assets of $7,283.50. Petitioner
commenced this action in the Circuit Court of Putnam County, West
Virginia, in order to have her rights in the estate determined. She
also demanded that certain allegedly fraudulent transfers of real
and personal property made by M. S. Aldrich be set aside, and the
properties which were the subject of such transfers administered as
a part of the estate, so as to be subject to her claim for alimony
under the Florida divorce decree.
On motion for summary judgment by the defendants, the Circuit
Court of Putnam County held that the decree of the Florida divorce
court was invalid and unenforceable insofar as it purported to
impose upon the estate of M. S. Aldrich an obligation to pay
alimony accruing after his death. The Supreme Court of Appeals of
West Virginia affirmed the judgment, 147 W.Va. 269, 127 S.E.2d
. It characterized the controlling question in the case
"whether the judgment . . . to the extent that it awards alimony
to accrue after the death of M. S. Aldrich and makes the alimony so
accruing a charge upon his estate, is a valid judgment which is
entitled to full faith and credit in the courts of this state; for,
if such judgment is not entitled to such full faith and credit, the
question of its enforceability against the property and assets
formerly owned by M. S. Aldrich becomes unimportant, and needs not
be considered or discussed."
147 W.Va. at 274, 127 S.E.2d at 388. Recognizing that, as
required by the Full Faith and Credit Clause, Art. IV, § 1, of the
Page 378 U. S. 542
"a judgment of a court of another state has the same force and
effect in this state as it has in the state in which it was
pronounced," 147 W.Va. at 275, 127 S.E.2d at 388, the court also
noted that "no greater effect is to be given to it than it would
have in the state where it was rendered." 147 W.Va. at 275, 127
S.Ed.2d at 389. Although apparently not questioning the power of
Florida to impose a charge upon the estate, the court concluded
that such a charge was, absent express agreement by the parties to
the divorce, improper under Florida law, and that
"the judgment awarding such alimony was void and of no force and
effect under the law of the State of Florida in which such judgment
was rendered, and will not be given full faith and credit in the
courts of this state."
147 W.Va. at 283, 127 S.E.2d at 393. We granted certiorari, 372
U.S. 963, to decide whether West Virginia had complied with the
mandate of the Fall Faith and Credit Clause.
Being uncertain regarding the relevant law of Florida, and
believing that law to be determinative of the effect to be given
the Florida judgment, we certified (375 U.S.
, 375 U. S. 249
251-252) the following questions of state law to the Florida
Supreme Court, pursuant to Rule 4.61 of the Florida Appellate
1. Is a decree of alimony that purports to bind the estate of a
deceased husband permissible, in the absence of an express prior
agreement between the two spouses authorizing or contemplating such
2. If such a decree is not permissible, does the error of the
court entering it render that court without subject matter
jurisdiction with regard to that aspect of the cause?
3. If subject matter jurisdiction is thus lacking, may that
defect be challenged in Florida, after the time for appellate
review has expired, (i) by the representatives of the estate of the
deceased husband or (ii) by persons to whom the deceased husband
has allegedly transferred part of his property without
4. If the decree is impermissible, but not subject to such
attack in Florida for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
Page 378 U. S. 543
by those mentioned in subparagraph 3, may an attack be
successfully based on this error of law in the rendition of the
The Florida court, in answer to our certification, has
determined that, although the award of alimony purporting to bind
the estate was not proper under Florida law, the court rendering
the decree did not thereby lose its jurisdiction over that part of
the case. It further decided that,
"when the husband failed to take an appeal and give a reviewing
court the opportunity to correct the error, the decree of the
Circuit Court on such question passed into verity, became final,
and is not now subject to collateral attack."
Fla., 163 So. 2d
, 284. Having given a negative answer to both the first two
questions, the court believed it unnecessary to consider the latter
two questions. We accordingly take the passage quoted above as
meaning that collateral attack on any ground would not have been
Given the answers of the Florida court, it becomes plain that
the judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia,
based as it was on a misapprehension regarding the law of a sister
State, cannot stand. The Florida alimony decree must be treated as
if it were perfectly correct under substantive principles of
Florida law. It cannot be argued that a rule of law imposing a
burden on the estate of a divorced man who has had his day in court
violates due process, and, if the judgment is binding upon him, it
is also binding on those whom Florida law considers to be in
privity with him, so long as Florida does not seek to bind those
who cannot be bound consistent with due process. That West Virginia
must give the decree of alimony as broad a scope as that it has in
Florida is clear, see Johnson v. Muelberger, 340 U.
, and is questioned neither by the Supreme Court
of Appeals of West Virginia nor by respondents.
The judgment below is reversed, and the case remanded for
proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.