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Where Does a Divorce Trial Take Place If Spouses Live in Different States?

While Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie may be the most recent high-profile example of a celebrity divorce playing out across the tabloids, the coverage of their split is relatively minor compared to that given to actors Burt Reynolds – who at one point was arguably the most famous movie star in the U.S. – and Loni Anderson, who starred on WKRP in Cincinnati, among other shows, during their divorce in the early 1990s.

One of the many issues that played out in their divorce was the fact that Anderson filed suit for divorce in California while Reynolds filed suit for divorce in Florida, where he owned a home (the case was eventually tried in California). Because state law on divorce can vary greatly with regard to how each spouse might fare on issues such as property distribution, spousal support, and child support, it is not surprising that Reynolds attempted to file suit in another state.

Having two simultaneous divorce proceedings is not as uncommon as it may sound, and can happen whenever the spouses have different state residencies, which can often occurs as a result of one spouse moving away during a separation. Here are some issues that can affect how such conflicts are resolved.

Is There a Prenuptial Agreement In Place?

First, one question to consider is whether a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement is in place between the spouses. The agreement may contain a provision relating to which state’s courts will have jurisdiction over any divorce. Furthermore, if the couple has already agreed on all issues such as spousal support and property distribution ahead of time, it may not make much of a difference which state court (and hence which state law is applied) handles the matter.

How Long Have the Spouses Lived in the Respective States?

States generally impose residency requirements on those who seek to obtain a divorce from the state’s courts. While you do not need to return to the state in which you were married to obtain a divorce – and a divorce granted in one state will be honored in all other states as well – you may need to prove that you lived in a certain state with the intent to make it your home for a certain amount of time before you can file, meaning you can’t just drive to the next state over and file for divorce. In California, the residency requirement is six months.

Was the Other Party Served?

States also require that divorce papers (in California, a petition and summons) be served on the other party in order for the court to have jurisdiction over that other party. Thus, if you are not properly served with legal documents pursuant to the applicable state law, the court will not have jurisdiction over you.

Who Filed First?

Assuming that both parties were properly served in simultaneous proceedings in separate states, the determination of which court will have jurisdiction may come down to who filed their action first. Thus, this is one reason why it can be important to take swift action in working with a family law attorney to file suit in some cases.

Your State Court May Still Take Action Even if Another Suit Has Been Filed

While only one state’s court can actually grant the divorce, this does not mean that you will not be able to take actions related to your divorce proceedings in another state court. For example, if you are not receiving child support from another parent, or you want to revisit a custody determination, it may be possible to reopen those matters in your home state’s courts.

Get Answers to Your California Family Law Questions

At Kearney | Baker in Pasadena, we represent spouses through all aspects of the dissolution/divorce process. Our partners, Brian A. Baker and Gary W. Kearney, are both Family Law Specialists, as certified by the California State Bar. To schedule a consultation regarding any questions about family law in California, contact one of the family law attorneys at Kearney | Baker today at 626-768-2945.

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