Articles Posted in Family Court Jurisdiction

Marriage and divorce are highly regulated by state law. Since each state has the authority to enact laws governing divorce, there is a substantial amount of variation from one jurisdiction to the next. But what happens when a married couple lives in one jurisdiction and pursues a divorce in another? How do the courts handle such a situation? Which state has the authority to dissolve the marriage? Like most family law matters, it usually depends on the facts and circumstances surrounding the case. No matter what the facts are, if you are considering a divorce, you are encouraged to consult with an experienced family law attorney who is fully aware of the local laws and court rules affecting your case.

A recent divorce case invoked the family law statutes of both California and Guam. Here, the couple entered into a marital settlement agreement in California in 2011. A month later, a court in Guam issued a judgment of divorce and a final decree. According to the judgment, the matter had been uncontested, and the court had jurisdiction based on the husband’s residency in Guam for seven days. The wife had consented to the case being heard as a “default matter.” The court further approved the terms of the marital settlement agreement and ordered the parties to adhere to it. Despite these proceedings, the wife filed a petition to dissolve the marriage in 2013 in California. The husband moved to quash the action based on the 2011 final judgment of divorce entered by the court in Guam.
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While divorce is a difficult process, there are many cases where the parties actually work together to come to an agreement on the significant issues that must be resolved, such as child support, division of property, and spousal support. By agreeing and stipulating to certain terms, the couple can avoid having a judge devise an order that will affect their family going forward. If the parties are able to come to an agreement, a court will simply need to approve the agreed-upon terms. In order to ensure that your negotiations appropriately address the necessary topics, while protecting your rights, it is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney who is fully familiar with the laws affecting families in and around the San Diego area.

In a recent California divorce case, In re Marriage of Roberta Sala-Clow and Tracy Clow, the wife attempted to avoid complying with an agreed-upon stipulation after her husband died in a car accident. Here, the couple married in 1991 and in January 2010, the wife filed an action to dissolve the marriage. On June 1, 2012, the parties signed a handwritten stipulation purporting to resolve support and property matters. The document contained a statement indicating that the parties had both read and understood the stipulation and agreement. The couple requested that the court integrate the stipulation and agreement into the court’s order. Sadly, the husband died in a car accident on June 6, 2012. On June 8, 2012, the court filed the stipulation and order for judgment that was signed by the parties and their attorneys.

The husband’s attorney asked the court to sign and enter a stipulated judgment pursuant to the agreement the parties executed on June 1, 2012, and to issue an order terminating the parties’ marital status as of June 1. According to the court, the wife opposed the motion and tried to “undo” the stipulated judgment by claiming her husband’s death terminated the marriage by operation of law, thereby stripping the family court of any jurisdiction over the case. The trial court concluded that it would be a “miscarriage of justice” if it did not enter the judgment and therefore granted the motion to enter judgment in accordance with the handwritten stipulation as of June 1. The court pointed out that under California Family Code Section 2346, it had the power to dissolve the marriage after the death of one of the parties.
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