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The Divorce Encyclopedia

Term Definition Jurisdiction - the power of the court to rule on issues related to the parties, their children and their property.
Application in Divorce Jurisdiction is what gives the court its power to hand down decisions. A court obtains jurisdiction over a party when he or she is properly served and the legal process has been carried out in a manner consistent with due process, as described in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. This means that he or she has "sufficient notice and opportunity" to mount a defense against any action which could deprive the party of "life, liberty, or property."

In addition, the defendant in an action must have what is termed a sufficient nexus with the state where the action has been instituted. Nexus means that the defendant in an action must be able to defend himself or herself "without offending traditional concepts of fair play and substantial justice."

In the majority of divorce actions, jurisdiction is not a difficult question: it is the state where the parties reside, usually for at least a year. However, in a cases where the parties have several residences, or reside in different states at different times of the year, more than one state may qualify as the proper place to file. Moreover, in cases where the parties have multiple residences, one spouse may find it advantageous to file in an equitable distribution state as opposed to a community property state.

Under the rule known as divisible divorce, a jurisdiction may have personal jurisdiction over the spouse to end their marriage but not to divide their property or establish spousal and child support. The parties must have what is called "minimum contact" with the jurisdiction for the court to decide financial issues.

See also Forum Shopping; Equitable Distribution; Community Property; Common Law Marriages; Personal Jurisdiction.

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