Barber v. Barber (1858)
In Barber v. Barber (1858) 62 U.S. 582, the wife (who lived in New York) filed a federal suit in Wisconsin against her husband, who lived in Wisconsin, seeking to enforce a New York state courtdecree concerning alimony.
The Supreme Court had before it the question whether a divorced wife could acquire a domicile apart from that of her former husband which would entitle her to sue in a federal court on the ground of diversity of citizenship.
The court sustained her right to maintain the action. In the course of the opinion, it said (p. 595):
"But if the husband, as is the fact in this case, abandons their domicile and his wife, to get rid of all those conjugal obligations which the marriage relation imposes upon him, neither giving to her the necessaries nor the comforts suitable to their condition and his fortune, and relinquishes altogether his marital control and protection, he yields up that power and authority over her which alone makes his domicile hers, and places her in a situation to sue him for divorce a mensa et thoro, and to ask the court having jurisdiction of her suit to allow her from her husband's means, by way of alimony, a suitable maintenance and support."
The Supreme Court announced that federal courts did not have jurisdiction over suits for divorce or the allowance of alimony when a wife sought to enforce a state court divorce and alimony decree in federal court.
The rule that periodic installments of alimony constituted debts of record entitled to full faith and credit as the installments matured was announced.
The Supreme Court recognized the power of federal courts to settle some domestic relations related matters, such as the satisfaction of a money judgment, which may have arisen because of marital or family relations, but cautioned that, the interference, however, is limited to cases in which alimony has been decreed; then only to the extent of what is due, and always to cases in which no appeal is pending from the decree for the divorce or for alimony.
The Supreme Court made the following statement:
"Our first remark is -- and we wish it to be remembered -- that this is not a suit asking the court for the allowance of alimony. That has been done by a court of competent jurisdiction. We disclaim altogether any jurisdiction in the courts of the United States upon the subject of divorce, or for the allowance of alimony, either as an original proceeding in chancery or as an incident to divorce a zinculo, or to one from bed and board."