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The Divorce Encyclopedia
Conflict of Laws


Term Definition Conflict of Laws - a situation that may arise when parties live in one state and divorce in another.
Application in Divorce In general, property is divided according to the laws of the jurisdiction in which a couple divorces. Migrant spouses, however, sometimes raise claims seeking to apply laws from states other than the forum jurisdiction. What are called choice of law and conflict of law issues may surface in these cases.

As it applies to divorce, conflicts of law are resolved around the principle of most significant relationship. This means that the laws of the jurisdiction with the most significant relationship to the parties may govern the distribution of personalty, and that the parties’ interest in land may be governed by the jurisdiction where it is located.

These issues can happen when spouses live as a couple and acquire property in an equitable distribution state, then move to a community property state, where they divorce, or where spouses live as a couple in a community properly state, and then move to an equitable distribution state, where they divorce.

In the first set of circumstances -- a couple moving from an equitable distribution state to a community property state -- courts face situations where "an anomalous and unfair result" can happen. For example, in one case, a couple resided in Georgia, where the husband earned his federal civil service, and then moved to Louisiana, where they retired and eventually divorced. Had they remained in Georgia, the husband’s benefits would have been divisible under that state’s equitable property distribution; in Louisiana, however, the benefits would have community property. Here, the Louisiana court applied Georgia law in distributing the benefits.

Other community property jurisdictions have applied equitable distribution doctrine when couples divorce there after acquiring property in the equitable distribution jurisdictions. Some treat property acquired outside the state as a quasi-community property if it would have been community property if it had been acquired in the state.

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