how does where you file impact divorce

Importance Of Jurisdiction In Divorce

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So many factors can impact your divorce. There’s the emotional turmoil, the decaying relationship, and whatever factors led you to end your marriage in the first place. Just getting to that point is its own story. Divorce is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make. And from that one decision come dozens more that further complicate the process. A huge one is where you decide to file for divorce. Because, as you’ll learn, jurisdiction has a major impact on your case.

If you and your spouse have only established residency in a single state, you only really have one option. But if you’ve recently moved, if the two of you live in different states, or even if you own homes elsewhere, all of that can influence which state has jurisdiction over your case.

Different states often have very different rules. (In some states, laws even vary by county.) For example, when it comes to the division of property, Oregon follows the equitable distribution model. Washington, on the other hand, is a community property state. This means the two states view, and thus divide, assets in specific ways.

And that’s just one area where jurisdiction comes into play. States often have differences regarding child custody, the child support formula, spousal support, and more. It may not always have a drastic influence, but you may find one state’s laws favor your case where another’s don’t. However it works out, it’s an important topic to consider.

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Where You File For Divorce

People often think you have to file for divorce in the state where you married. That’s not true. You do, however, need to be a legal resident of the state where you file.

Some states require a waiting period after you become a resident before you can file. This keeps people from moving to a new state with more favorable laws and divorcing right away. Washington doesn’t work this way, but it does have certain stipulations. You must be a Washington resident, a member of the armed forces stationed here, or married to a Washington resident or member of the military stationed here.

When spouses live in different states, this also impacts jurisdiction. If you meet the residency requirements in Washington, you can file here. And if your spouse lives in California, she can file there. If you both agree, you can file wherever you please.

In most cases, the state where the papers are ultimately filed keeps jurisdiction. This presents something to think about when considering filing. Timing may be a factor.

Jurisdiction And Divorce

So how exactly does jurisdiction impact divorce? It can play into how financial matters shake out. Often, it influences how much time you spend with your children. In reality, it can sway almost every aspect of the process.

  • Division of Property: As said earlier, Washington follows community property practices when splitting up assets during a divorce. This is different from Oregon, which uses the equitable distribution model. Community property views all assets acquired during a marriage as equally belonging to both spouses. This has a significant influence on how courts allocate assets and debts. It’s important to know how things vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
  • Child Custody: Many factors influence custody decisions, and states weigh them differently. The language often varies from one state to the next. Some states allow non-blood relatives to vie for custody in certain cases. Specific states have their own laws, so jurisdiction has a major influence. How jurisdiction is decided in custody cases is its own complex issue, but more on that later.
  • Child Support: Child support payments cover a child’s basic necessities. Things like food, shelter, medical care, and education. States follow a rigid formula to determine this number. It weighs various factors. You plug certain numbers into an equation and it produces an amount. But like other areas, variations to the formula occur as you cross state borders, which can cause major changes.
  • Spousal Support: Spousal support doesn’t follow a strict formula like child support, but the goal remains similar. It’s intended to provide financial support for dependent spouses after divorce. In some cases, it only lasts a short time. In others, it continues indefinitely. As you probably guessed, how states approach this differs a great deal. Oregon, for example, has three specific types of spousal support. Washington, on the other hand, doesn’t, though payments tend to follow a pattern depending on things like length of the marriage, earning potential, and financial need.

Related Reading: 5 Psychological Factors that Predict Divorce

How Children Impact Jurisdiction

Children tend to complicate matters in a divorce. Their presence impacts things emotionally, financially, and they can even play a part when it comes to jurisdiction. We mentioned above how jurisdiction affects custody, but children can also influence where a case takes place.

Spouses can agree to which state has jurisdiction. But when a divorce involves a custody component, that’s not always the case. Things can get very complicated, which is where the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act comes in.

Created in the 1960s, and adopted by every state by the early 1980s, the UCCJEA sets out statutes that determine jurisdiction in custody child cases. A complex set of rules and regulations, it establishes the “home state” in these situations.

Under the UCCJEA, courts take many factors into account. Where the child has lived for the previous six months is a big component. If a child has significant connections in a state, that plays a role. In grave circumstances, states can declare emergency jurisdiction.

The goal is to serve the best interests of the child or children in question. This is already a traumatic time, and the laws aim to best serve the children’s well-being. So, though you may want to file for divorce in one state, in certain situations, another may hold jurisdiction.

These are only a few of the ways where you file for divorce matters. Jurisdiction can have a major influence in many areas when ending a marriage. Laws often vary in ways you don’t expect. As such, it’s vital to know the specific rules and regulations where your case will be heard.

If you have questions about your divorce, contact Goldberg Jones at our Seattle office. Our experienced attorneys are well-versed in Washington divorce and custody law.

Related Reading: What to Expect From Child Custody Hearings

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