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Appeals court rules Hmong marriage valid

DATELINE: WAUSAU, Wis., April 23, 2002, Tuesday

A marriage performed according to traditional Hmong ceremonial rites in Laos is valid in Wisconsin, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.

At issue was whether Nhia Lue Xiong, 47, of Kaukauna, was the surviving spouse in an automobile insurance policy following an accident that killed his wife, Mai, in 1998. The couple's five children seek more than $100,000 from an auto insurance policy.

They argue their mother and father did not have a legally recognized marriage, making the children eligible for the money from State Farm Insurance Co. under a wrongful death claim they filed shortly after the car accident.

The couple fled Laos in May 1975 during the communist takeover to a refugee camp in Thailand. They had no documentation of any kind, including birth certificates, court records said.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of the children's lawsuit by Outagamie County Circuit Judge Joseph Troy.

The couple's relationship meets the requirements of Wisconsin law for marriage, the panel said.

"Recognizing their marital relationship under the circumstance presented here does not violate any public policy," the court said.

Because of the unique circumstances of the dispute, the appeals court had asked the state Supreme Court to take jurisdiction of the appeal.

The high court refused to hear the matter and sent the case back to the three-judge appeals court in March, court records said.