What Is Jurisdiction?
Jurisdiction is an important part of every divorce or child custody matter. Jurisdiction is the first element of any case. It decides whether a court has the authority to make decisions in your case. Without jurisdiction the court cannot hear the divorce or custody case and therefore cannot make orders.
Not every court has authority over you. For example, a Florida court doesn’t have authority over a divorce in Nevada. Or, a bankruptcy court wouldn’t be able to make rulings in your divorce case. Courts must have two types of jurisdiction over your case;
- In rem – Which is jurisdiction over the subject matter.
- In personam – Which is jurisdiction over the person or people
For subject matter jurisdiction the Nevada’s courts have created which courts can hear certain types of cases. For divorces, alimony, child custody and child support, Nevada has created a Family Court. These courts have the authority to make rulings about all family law related cases.
For jurisdiction over the person, the courts typically look at location and residency. In other words, does the plaintiff or defendant live in the state? If both people are living in the state then that state probably has jurisdiction.
To have jurisdiction, the Nevada Court’s require you to be a resident for six weeks prior to filing for a divorce where no children are involved. The court requires six months for child custody matters or a divorce involving children.
How does the court know you are a resident of Las Vegas or Nevada? You would think the court would need a driver’s license, utility bill, or employment verification. They don’t. They only require a friend, neighbor or co-worker to sign a document verifying you have lived here for the needed time. This document is called an affidavit of resident witness.
Sounds simple? Well let’s test our grasp of jurisdiction by walking through some typical scenarios.
Both husband and wife have lived in Las Vegas for the past six weeks. Which state has jurisdiction? This is simple. The divorce will be heard by a Nevada court. If they have children the time requirement is six months instead of six weeks.
A couple, with no children, have lived in Las Vegas for ten years. Wife moved to Texas four months ago. Which state can hear the case? Because there are no children, either state can hear the case. Whomever files the divorce first is where the case will be heard.
What if wife moved to Reno instead of Texas? They both live in the Nevada, but different cities. Where can the case be filed? It can be filed in either city. Again, whomever who files first is probably where the case will be heard. Divorce laws are state specific, so Reno and Las Vegas will have the same laws. The only concern would be traveling to another city for your court hearings.
Couple with children moved to Nevada three months ago. Now they would like to file for divorce. Can they?
Nevada needs at least one parent and all children to live here for six months. If they have only lived here for three months the rules say Nevada doesn’t have jurisdiction. Then which state does? The state they just moved from? They don’t live there anymore. This is a situation where Nevada will take jurisdiction even though the residency time has not been met. Because the couple nor children live in the other state.
A couple with children have lived in Nevada for ten years. The mom moved to Arizona three months ago with the children. Dad filed for divorce in Nevada. Can Nevada still here the case?
Probably. Nevada still holds jurisdiction over the divorce and custody until mom has meet Arizona’s residency requirements. Most states require children to live in their state for six months. So, mom has not met this requirement. This leaves Nevada the proper state for hearing the case.
Let’s tweak this scenario a little. Mom moved to Arizona eight months ago with the children. Dad files for divorce in Nevada. Mom files for divorce in Arizona. What now?
The children don’t live in Nevada, so Nevada cannot not make decisions about custody or child support. Nevada could make decisions about property, debt and spousal support. This is called bifurcating a case. It is rare. Most times the courts hold a conference with each other to decide which court should decide the entire divorce. In this situation, because the children live in Arizona the case will probably be heard by an Arizona court.
Let’s get a little tricky. Husband and wife, with children, lived in Florida. They already got a divorce in Florida several years ago. Mom has since moved to Nevada with the kids. Dad moved to Texas. Mom wants to bring dad to court over custody issues. Which state can hear the case?
The secret is to follow the children. In this case you can eliminate Texas. The children haven’t ever lived there. Florida is a possible location because they made the original decision. But, the kids haven’t lived there for the past six months. Have mom and children lived in Nevada for six months? If so, then the case could probably be moved to Nevada. If you got this one, then you are good with divorce jurisdiction.