Divorce is a difficult process on many levels. It is emotionally and mentally difficult, and can also be physically exhausting. It is not a decision most people arrive at lightly. However, before filing for divorce, it is important to make sure that the court you are filing for divorce in has the jurisdiction to hear the case. This can be especially important if you have been served with divorce papers from another state or if you and your spouse have property that is located in or has been taken to another state. Concerns may also arise when support payments from another state are being considered or need to be enforced.
What is Jurisdiction?
There are two types of jurisdiction: Subject matter jurisdiction refers to a court’s ability to hear certain types of cases. Personal jurisdiction refers to the court’s ability to enforce decisions on certain types of people. State courts are generally given jurisdiction over a wide variety of different types of cases. Sometimes the types of cases each type of court can hear are prescribed by law.
Each state is free to set its own requirements for jurisdiction. In Florida, the jurisdictional requirement for divorce is that one party must have resided in Florida for six months prior to filing the petition for dissolution of marriage. Many other states have similar jurisdictional provisions regardless of whether or not you were married in that state. There are situations in which courts from different states can hear the same divorce because of jurisdictional requirements within those states.
What Should You Do if You Receive an Out-of-State Divorce Summons?
The first thing you should do is consult with an experienced attorney in your state that focuses his or her practice on divorce. You will also want to reach out to an experienced divorce attorney in the state where the divorce petition has been filed. Depending on the laws of the other state, an attorney legally able to practice there might be able to convince the court in that state that Florida would be a more proper location for the divorce. This can result in the divorce petition from that state being dismissed and your spouse being left with little option but to return to Florida to pursue divorce.
However, it may actually be beneficial to you to litigate your divorce in another state depending on that state’s divorce laws. That is why working with an experienced divorce attorney in the state in which the petition was filed can be beneficial on several different levels. You may be surprised to find out that other states can provide a more desirable outcome for your divorce. Working with an attorney in the state in which the divorce petition was filed can help secure a relationship with that attorney should you need to litigate your divorce in that state, making sure that the attorney is familiar with all aspects of your case from the time it is filed.
While it may seem straightforward to file an answer or appear in court even just to tell the court that you do not believe it is fair for you to have to travel out of your state for legal proceedings, doing so could mean that you are waiving potentially valid objections to that state’s personal jurisdiction over you. Once valid objections to personal jurisdiction are waived, they cannot be raised at a later time. It is usually possible for you to enter a special appearance with the out-of-state court if you have determined that you do not want to litigate your divorce there. A special appearance allows you to go to court for the sole purpose of determining whether that court has jurisdiction to hear your divorce without automatically submitting to that state’s jurisdiction.
Out-of-State Alimony and Child Support
Support payments are a different matter than whether a court can hear a divorce. If your spouse has never lived in Florida, Florida courts generally cannot order them to pay alimony even if they have the jurisdiction to hear the divorce. Usually, you will need to file for divorce in a state that has personal jurisdiction over your spouse to request and receive alimony.
However, child support is enforceable through any court across the country. Child support orders issued from other states can be enforced through the Florida Department of Revenue, the state agency that handles processing and recording child support payments connected with Florida. Even if your child’s other parent is living out of state, contacting the Florida Department of Revenue can set in motion procedures for enforcing your child support in the state in which the child’s other parent is residing.
Out-of-State Property Concerns
Sometimes, one spouse may try to protect certain assets or property by removing them from the state. However, if those items can be considered marital property, then removing them from the state will not protect them from the court’s jurisdiction. Marital property is property that one or both spouses have acquired during the course of a marriage. Even property one spouse purchased with his or her own resources during a marriage can be considered marital property. Marital property that has been removed from the state or that is located in another state is still within the jurisdiction of Florida’s courts when it comes to divorce, and removing such property in an effort to hide assets can actually result in criminal charges in some situations.
Legal Assistance with Divorce
Whether you are litigating your divorce in Florida or choosing to submit to another state’s jurisdiction, it is important to work with an experienced family law attorney that focuses on divorce. This will help you navigate the complex legal channels involved in the divorce process and ensure that your rights are protected throughout the divorce. An experienced attorney can help you understand issues about jurisdiction and other concerns that are likely to arise during a divorce. Contact Scott J. Stadler to schedule a consultation where you can find out more information about how Florida divorce might affect you.