De Reneville v De Reneville [1948]

Facts

The petitioner was born in England and of English parents. She was resident in England until her marriage. In 1935, she married the respondent, a French man who was a resident in Paris. Later on, she moved on and lived with him in Brazzaville, Congo and also at Briska, Algeria. Five years after their marriage, she left the respondent and returned to England. She petitioned nullity of the marriage on the ground that the marriage had not been consummated owing to either the incapacity or wilful refusal to consummate by the respondent. In response, the respondent told the English court that they had no Jurisdiction in the matter seeing that the marriage was solemnised outside of England.

Issue

Whether the Court could grant a decree of Nullity notwithstanding the fact that the Marriage was not solemnised in England.

Held

Lord Greene was of the view that the Marriage should be decided according to French Law either because that is the law of the husband’s domicile at the date of the marriage or because at that date, it was the law of the matrimonial domicile in reference to which the parties may have been supposed to enter into the bonds of marriage. He opined that it would be for the English court, after hearing evidence of French law, to decide whether in French law the marriage was void or voidable. If the Marriage was void, then the English courts had Jurisdiction because in that scenario the petitioner was domiciled in England. Then if it was voidable under French Law, then the English courts would have no Jurisdiction because in that event the petitioner would be domiciled in France.

Commentary

This case is often only used for distinguishing a void marriage from a voidable marriage. In Ross Smith v Ross Smith [1961] the Court of Appeal of England observed that in De Reneville, “the distinction between a void and a voidable marriage was relevant, but relevant only, for the purpose of determining the domicile of the petitioning wife.” Lord Greene observed that the distinction between a Void marriage and Voidable marriage is that ‘A void marriage is one that will be regarded by every court in any case in which the existence of the marriage is in issue as never having taken place and can be so treated by both parties to it without the necessity of any decree annulling it, a voidable marriage is one that will be regarded by every court as a valid and subsisting marriage until a decree annulling it has been pronounced by a court of competent jurisdiction’.

For more information on this case, read De Reneville Revisited (Cambridge University Press) Journal by J. H. C. Morris. Sourced by The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Jul., 1970, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Jul., 1970), pp. 424-429. You can find it here.

See also HAFIZ AYYUB DURGA v NAJMUNNISSA ISMAIL (1992) S.J. (H.C.)

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