California Court Discusses Jurisdiction in Divorce Matters

March 27, 2024 | By Doppelt and Forney
California Court Discusses Jurisdiction in Divorce Matters

Many couples have bi-coastal relationships where they reside in cities on opposite sides of the country. When a married couple that lives in different states decides to end their marriage, they may not agree over which state should hear their divorce. This was demonstrated in a recent California case, in which the Court was forced to determine if California or Massachusetts was the proper forum to dissolve a marriage. If you intend to seek a divorce, it is in your best interest to speak to a skilled San Diego divorce lawyer to evaluate your options.

The Dissolution Filings

Allegedly, the husband and the wife married in 1989 in Rhode Island. In March 2019, the husband filed a petition for a legal separation in a California Court. He then mailed a summons to the wife in Massachusetts.

The wife admitted that she signed for receipt of the summons, and the husband filed the signed receipt with the appropriate Court. Approximately one month later, the wife filed a petition for dissolution in a Massachusetts Court; the summons was served on the husband nine days later.

It is reported that the day after he received the Massachusetts summons, the husband amended his earlier petition to seek dissolution and then sent a new summons to his wife. Upon receipt of the summons, the wife filed a request asking the Court to abate and quash the California action.

Specifically, she argued that she filed her dissolution petition first and that Massachusetts was a better-suited forum to handle the dissolution. The Trial Court ruled in favor of the wife and abated and stayed the California case. The husband appealed.

Jurisdiction Over Parties in Divorces

On appeal, the husband argued that his dissolution petition and was first in time. In other words, he asserted that it related back to his petition for separation. Further, he stated that regardless of which action was filed first, the Trial Court committed an abuse of discretion in abating his action because it based the ruling in part on the conclusion that it did not have personal jurisdiction over the wife, which he asserted was erroneous.

The Court of Appeal declined to adopt the husband’s reasoning and affirmed the Trial Court ruling. The Court of Appeal explained that the Trial court did not have in personam jurisdiction over the wife either when the husband filed his original petition for separation or when he amended his petition to seek dissolution of the marriage. Accordingly, as the first in time rule only applies when the court has both in personam and in rem jurisdiction, the husband’s argument failed.

Confer with a Seasoned California Divorce Law Attorney

When a couple who lives in different parts of the country wants to end their marriage, it is not always clear what court should handle their divorce. If you want to divorce your spouse or were served with legal documents instituting a dissolution proceeding, it is advisable to confer with an attorney as soon as possible.

The seasoned  San Diego family law attorneys of Doppelt and Forney APLC are proficient at helping people seek fair and efficient divorces, and if we represent you, we will help you pursue a favorable outcome. You can reach us via our online form or by calling us at 800-769-4748 to set up a free and confidential meeting.