Making the choice to file for divorce is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make. It’s up there with getting married in the first place, having kids, and buying a house in the life changing department. Once you head down that path, you also have a ton of subsequent important decisions to make. This includes where you file for divorce. As it turns out, jurisdiction has a huge impact on what follows.
Filling out all of the proper forms is one thing, but where you ultimately file them is just as important. Laws vary a great deal from one state to the next, and even from county to county. Where you live has a big influence on how the courts divide property, rule on child custody, and even determine child and spousal support. Because of this, you want to take steps to file for divorce in the right state, county, and even court.
The State Where You File For Divorce
Many people mistakenly believe you must file for divorce in the state where you were married. That’s simply not true. People move around the country all the time. If you relocate from state to state often, it can be difficult to pin down where you file for divorce. Members of the military often face this issue. You must, however, meet the legal residency requirements of the state where you file for divorce. This keeps people from bouncing from one state to another to find more favorable divorce laws.
Every state has specific rules and regulations regarding residency. Most require you to live in-state for a specific amount of time before you can dissolve your marriage there. For example, you must live continuously in Oregon for six months before you can file for divorce here. Kansas, on the other hand, only requires 60 days, while New York wants a full year.
In some states, there are even county residency requirements. If you move from one California county to another, you must wait three months before you can file for divorce there. Oregon doesn’t have this stipulation. If you move from Portland to Eugene, you can file immediately. If you do move to a new state, however, it’s important to know these things vary. It’s in your best interest to consult your new county’s website or talk to a local attorney who knows the specifics.
If You And Your Spouse Live In Different States
In situations where spouses live in different states, this also impacts where you file for divorce. Depending on the situation, one state may offer certain advantages to filing there. On the other side of that coin, a particular state having jurisdiction may negatively impact your case. Again, knowing how things differ is key.
It isn’t necessary for both spouses to be legal residents of the same state. If the two parties agree which state has jurisdiction, that’s where you file for divorce if you choose. In cases where both parties have established residency, the state where the papers are filed usually maintains jurisdiction.
How Jurisdiction Impacts Divorce
So, why is where you file for divorce so important? Jurisdiction impacts many facets of the process. It can influence your financial state going forward, how much you see your kids, and much more.
- Division of Property: When it comes to the division of property, Oregon practices equitable distribution. This is different from states like our neighbors to the North and South, Washington and California, which are community property states. In equitable distribution, the court views property as belonging to the spouse who earned it. Community property views all assets acquired during a marriage as belonging equally to both. This impacts how the court splits up property and assets during a divorce.
- Child Custody: Child custody is a big issue in many divorces. Numerous factors influence the court’s decision. Courts can order joint custody or sole custody, but again, the specifics vary from one state to the next. In Oregon, the court can only award joint custody if both parents agree. And any person with an established emotional relationship with a child, related by blood or not, can petition for custody or visitation. This is quite different from other states and illustrates how much influence jurisdiction has. The way jurisdiction is determined in cases involving children does differ, but we’ll talk more about that later.
- Child Support: Child support payments cover a child’s basic necessities after divorce. This includes a safe place to live, food, medical care, education, and more. Courts consider a variety of factors when determining the amount. Need, the earning potential of each parent, parenting time, and other factors play a part. But states weigh these elements differently, so the final amount may vary depending on where you file for divorce.
- Spousal Support: While it’s less formulaic than child support, Oregon has three types of spousal support. Transitional support is designed to help smooth one spouse’s transition back to single life. Compensatory support pops up most often in cases where the division of property skews sharply one way or when one spouse contributed substantially to the future earning potential of the other. Maintenance support usually occurs when there’s a large disparity in earning potential. Not every state handles things this way, so where you file for divorce often plays a huge role.
Jurisdiction And Child Custody
As with most areas in divorce, children complicate matters, and jurisdiction is no different. We touched above on how different states rule on child custody. But jurisdiction is another issue. While spouses can consent to another state having jurisdiction in a divorce, that’s not necessarily the case with custody decisions.
This is where the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act comes into play. Established in the late 1960s, and adopted by every state by 1981, the UCCJEA is a statute that determines jurisdiction in cases involving children. It’s a complicated set of rules and regulations that establish a child’s “home state” in these situations. Designed to serve the well-being and best interests of minor children, the home state is usually where the child lived for the previous six months or one where the child has substantial connections.
These are just a few ways that illustrate the importance of where you file for divorce. Jurisdiction impacts many areas of the process, and it’s vital to know how. State laws often vary in ways you never expect. Whether you live in Oregon or another state can have a huge impact on your settlement, and your life moving forward, and it’s definitely worth learning the ins and outs.
If you have questions about your divorce, contact Goldberg Jones at our Portland office.