Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)

The Anna Nichol Case Illustrates How a Conflict in Laws Can Affect The Outcome

The on-going controversy following the death of Anna Nichol Smith concerning the paternity of her baby girl is one fueled largely by conflicting laws and, of course, greed.


The greed portion is easy to understand. As Anna’s sole surviving heir, the little girl stands to inherit a mega fortune should the litigation over the estate of Anna’s late billionaire husband ultimately end in Anne’s favor. For whoever is finally determined to be the father, this is the chance to have a significant influence over a very large sum of money.


Declaring a winner to the paternity lottery may come down to whether U.S. or Bahamian law is applied. As every living being surely knows, Anna’s child lives in the Bahamas as does her former lover and attorney, Howard Stern. Mr. Stern claims that he is the baby’s father and that her Bahamian birth certificate lists him as such. According to reports I’ve heard, this listing settles the paternity question as far as Bahamian law is concerned.


However, in the U.S., when paternity is contested, it is settled with DNA testing of the mother, child and competing father candidates. That’s why Larry Birkhead, the other leading contender, has petitioned the California courts to order DNA testing of both himself and Stern.


We will all stay glued to CNN to see how this is resolved, but this case, although hi-profile, is just one example of how conflicting laws and/or jurisdictions can complicate what might otherwise be a straightforward issue.


I once represented a foreign-born woman who lived with her husband, also from the same country, in St. Louis County in an adult abuse case against her husband. In addition to seeking protection, she also asked for spousal maintenance and child support from her husband during the case. Her husband balked at paying either, saying that he and the woman were never married.


Although both agreed that a ritualistic ceremony had taken place back home that was considered a marriage in that country, her (alleged) husband claimed that a marriage did not occur because his (alleged) wife was already married at the time to another man. It seems, as I later learned, that she had married someone else (in the U.S.) and had not had that marriage dissolved or annulled before marrying in her home country.


Had all of this occurred here in Missouri, my client’s petition for spousal support would have been lost. Our law is clear in saying that you can’t marry a second person while still married to someone else. However, my investigation into the law of their native country revealed such was not always the case over there and that my client’s foreign marriage, under their law, might still be viewed as legitimate.


I also knew that our Missouri courts have the option of applying foreign laws in a case like this if the court found that the foreign law met U.S. due process requirements. (An example of a foreign law that would not meet our standards is one where, such as in several Middle Eastern countries, a husband divorces his wife by telling her “I divorce thee” three times.)


Confronted with the information that his native country’s law allowed for the possibility of his marriage being declared as legitimate, and by the possibility that a St. Louis County court might just apply that law, the husband compromised. We agreed to an extra generous schedule of child support payments for the wife, which were more than enough to also support her, while also agreeing to leave the issue of whether they were actually married unresolved for another day.


Next week, I’ll discuss other cases where a difference in laws between states has been a critical factor.