Noel and Marie-Louise Tshiani were married in 1993 in a traditional wedding in the Congo. Their families attended. Cash ($200 worth) was exchanged, as were clothes and, of course, a live goat.
The only aspect of the wedding that was not traditional was that Noel couldn’t make it.
The groom was on the road working for the World Bank. Nobody seemed to mind: Noel participated by phone, and his cousin played him on scene.
Marie-Louise even spent the night at the cousin’s home after the wedding.
The following facts are recounted not in a wedding album but in a recent and fascinating decision by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
The couple relocated to the region after the wedding and filed for divorce not long ago in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
During the proceedings, Noel claimed, among other things, that he was unaware of the wedding, that the wedding was illegal, and there shouldn’t be a monetary award because the wedding was illegal under Maryland law.
Noel lost, then appealed.
This is how the Court of Special Appeals ruled: Um, sorry, Noel — you were married, buddy.
The court, of course, didn’t put the ruling in precisely those terms, but it did rule a) that the Congo wedding was legal in the Congo and b) because it was legal in the Congo, and there wasn’t a law outlawing the marriage in Maryland, the marriage was legal here as well. (You can read the ruling here.)
There seemed to be a lot of evidence not in Noel’s favor.
For one thing, the couple had obtained their marriage certificate in the Congo when they renewed their vows in Virginia.
Also, the court wrote this: “As for children, the couple have three. As further evidence of marriage, the couple also have held themselves out to the community as husband and wife. Noel applied for a dependency allowance for Marie-Louise with his employer. He requested and received health insurance coverage for Marie-Louise and added her to his life insurance policy. Noel went to the United States Immigration Service in order to obtain a Green Card for Marie-Louise based on her status as his wife.”
As for getting married over the phone, the court didn’t mind at all, even if Miss Manners would dissent.
“We also find that neither proxy nor phone marriages are repugnant to Maryland public policy,” the court wrote, adding, “no law suggests that proxy or phone marriages would not be permitted when performed in Maryland.” That’s essentially because “modern communication technology reduces the likelihood that the absent individual can claim he or she did not enter into an actual contract or commit a solemn act.”
In the end, the court affirmed the couple’s divorce in circuit court, awarding alimony and dividing property — a traditional divorce following a partially nontraditional wedding.