Does it matter where you file for divorce?
In today’s globally mobile society, some families are taking advantage of work-from-home options, telecommuting and other flexible working schedules so they can live and work from where they choose. The benefits of such schemes means people can move more freely without worrying about losing a sustainable job they love.
However, it can raise unique legal questions for those considering divorce. If you move back and forth from California to Nevada (or other destinations) to take advantage of the changing seasons or for whatever reason, where is “home”? More importantly, where should you file for divorce? Does it matter?
Answering these questions requires understanding the residency requirements and other differences in divorce law between states.
Residency requirements and the law
Most states have some sort of residency requirement when it comes to divorce. In California, those wishing to get divorced must have been living in the state for at least six months. Three of those months must be within the county you file for divorce in. By contrast, Nevada’s residency requirement is just six weeks.
Of course, this begs a further question: what does it meant to be a resident? Generally speaking, being a resident means you are contiguously present within the state for the required amount of time. You may have a more permanent home (legally called a "domicile") in another state where you own property, pay taxes and bills, have mail delivered or where your family resides. But, because you may travel for work or pleasure, you may end up "residing" for several weeks or months in other places. This is especially common in military families, where a service member gets deployed outside their home state for a specific length of time.
Certain states, like Connecticut or New York, require you to have a domicile within the state in order to file divorce. Neither California nor Nevada has this requirement, however, so only the above residency requirements apply.
Why is establishing residency important?
Meeting the residency requirement allows the court to have jurisdiction over your divorce case. This means that any decisions the court makes will be binding and final, unless successfully appealed. Without meeting these requirements, the agreements or decisions made during the divorce would not have legal merit, and therefore either party could theoretically ignore them with impunity.
The other reason you need to properly establish jurisdiction via residency is so that you only work with one set of laws. The laws governing property division, child custody and support, and alimony differ between states. By establishing residency, the court knows which laws to apply when making its final decisions on how to divide marital assets and debts, determine a parenting plan, and set up support arrangements.
So does it matter where you file for divorce?
The short answer is yes, it does. However, which state you should file for divorce in is a highly nuanced question. The answer depends on your goals and your family’s needs, things that cannot be answered through a mere blog post.
The best thing to do in this situation is to talk with a skilled family law attorney who has experience handling these multijurisdictional issues. He or she can then give you advice tailored to your unique circumstances.