One of the most confusing and difficult issues to deal with are issues regarding jurisdiction. What this means is a determination as to which court can consider and rule on a particular case.
In many situations, jurisdiction is taken for granted. You live in Arizona, your spouse or the other parent of your children live in Arizona, and your children live in Arizona. In most cases, a family law case would be brought in the Superior Court in the county in Arizona in which you live.
But life is not always simple and neither are situations.
What if you live in Arizona and your spouse or the parent of your children lives in another state, or if the children live in another state? Can you seek dissolution of marriage or legal separation in Arizona, or must you file in a different state? If you can seek dissolution of marriage or legal separation in Arizona, can you seek child support in Arizona or must that part of your case be handled in a court proceeding in a different state? Can you ask that an Arizona court modify a court order of legal decision-making or parenting time if that court order was made by a court in another state? What about if the children involved live or recently lived in a different state?
Can you ask that the Arizona court in that dissolution of marriage or legal separation case divide the property as part of that case or must it be done in the other state where the property is located? What if you have a child support or spousal maintenance order from another state and subsequently moved to Arizona? Can an Arizona court handle an action to enforce that order or must it be pursued in the courts of the state that issued the order? What about a case to modify that order?
There are numerous and complex legal provisions for handling these matters.
Jurisdictional disputes between courts of different states are the subject of certain extraordinary legal procedures. In order for a court to entertain a dissolution of marriage action in the first place, at least one of the parties must have been domiciled in Arizona for at least ninety days before filing. Domicile is the place where a person legally resides – the place to which she or she has arrived to live intending it to be his or her home. While parties may own marital property located in various locations, the court usually has jurisdiction to deal with that property wherever located. But in order to deal with property division in cases where one of the parties resides outside of Arizona, it is usually necessary for the court to determine that Arizona is the parties’ most recent marital domicile, or the place where they most recently resided as a couple.
Dealing with children’s issues presents its own set of jurisdictional hurdles when more than one state is involved. To avoid situations where disputes over child custody, legal decision-making or parenting time are handled by two courts in two different states with possibly different results, courts will invoke procedures under a uniform law called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. This law sets priorities for determining which state’s court will handle these disputed issues and mechanisms for the judges of the courts of both states to communicate with each other and jointly determine which court will actually hear and decide the case. In some cases, it may be necessary for one court to actually make the decision, but for some of the testimony and evidence to be offered in the court of the other state. Once a court has ruled and the case is concluded, the problem can re-emerge if one of the parties seeks to modify the ruling to update it for changed circumstances that occurred since the case was decided. If the child and at least one of the parties continues to live in the state, the court usually retains jurisdiction. But if all parties have left the state, that jurisdiction can be relinquished to the court of another state where one or both of the parties is then residing.
There are legal provisions for circumstances like modification or enforcement or child support or spousal maintenance if there has been an interstate relocation after the order, judgment or decree was entered.
Finally, in some situations, the legal analysis can result in a conclusion that some issues in the case can be handled in one state while other issues in the case must be handled in another. In those situations, issues such as dissolving the marriage, determining children’s issues and division of marital property and debts may be handled in different courts in different states. This is known in the profession as a “divisible divorce”.
Victor Garnice has a long history of dealing with these complex jurisdictional issues and can lead you through his maze of complications in the event that your case has jurisdictional issues to overcome.