Husband and Wife Filed For Divorce in Separate States – Only One Can Have Jurisdiction

usamap-jpg-1417432-m.jpgDivorce cases can vary in many respects. Sometimes only one of the parties wants to dissolve the marriage and in other cases, both parties do. Either way California residents must follow local state laws when initiating divorce proceedings. Because there are many important legal steps to follow at the outset of a case, parties are encouraged to contact a local San Diego family law attorney before filing any papers with the courts. An experienced attorney can help the parties to protect their rights and move the case along efficiently.

In a recent divorce case, the husband and wife each filed for divorce – but in separate states: the husband in California, the wife in Colorado. Before the marriage both parties had strong ties to California. The husband founded a company in Mountain View (in 1992) and later lived in Palo Alto, and the wife graduated from Stanford University and received a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley. She was admitted to the Bar in California in 1987. But after their marriage in California in 1999, the couple moved and raised their three children mainly in Aspen, Colorado.

Further, between 2002 and 2011, the couple paid state income taxes only to Colorado, had Colorado driver’s licenses and had registered to vote in Colorado. Despite these facts, the couple retained ties to California. They owned various properties in the state, and in 2001, founded a company in Sunnyvale, California. Essentially, the husband worked in Sunnyvale during the week and returned to Colorado on the weekends. In late 2011 or early 2012, the parties separated and the husband moved out of the Aspen home and moved into one of their Los Altos homes. The mother and children stayed in Colorado.

Under California law, in order to file for divorce, one or the other spouse must have lived in the state for the last six months. The husband filed a petition for legal separation in California on February 2, 2012 – with the intention of amending the petition for dissolution once he satisfies the six-month statutory requirement. On February 6, the wife filed for dissolution of marriage in Colorado. She moved to quash the California action for lack of personal jurisdiction or stay the divorce action on the ground of “inconvenient forum” or “forum non conveniens.”

The trial court denied the motion to quash, but granted the motion to stay the California proceedings on forum non conveniens grounds. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court applied the wrong legal standard in granting the stay based on an inconvenient forum. Here, the court pointed out that it is unclear from the record whether the court gave any weight to the husband’s choice of forum. Further, the lower court did not assign any value to two of the factors that would weigh against granting a stay: 1) the likelihood that marital status would be determined more rapidly in California, and 2) the fact that the California action was filed first.

The matter was remanded back to the trial court for consideration of these factors. While this is an unpublished decision, the legal principles on which the court relied could serve to inform later cases in this jurisdiction. This case is a good example of the need to consult with a local family law attorney who has extensive experience handling divorce cases.

Roy M. Doppelt is an experienced divorce attorney who has represented parties in family court for more than 20 years. Doppelt & Forney serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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