Racing to the Courthouse

Mr. and Mrs. Woodcock lived in Wicomico County, Maryland, until Mrs. Woodcock left the marital residence and moved to her parent’s home in Baltimore.  She filed for alimony in Baltimore claiming that Mr. Woodcock had forced her to move out.

Upon being served with the complaint, Mr. Woodcock filed his complaint for divorce based on desertion in Wicomico County and a motion to dismiss his wife’s suit in Baltimore for lack of jurisdiction.

The Baltimore judge said that the general rule in the statute is that a suit must be filed in the county where the defendant resides.  An exception to the general rule is a suit for divorce which may be brought in the county where either party resides.  When two courts have jurisdiction over a case, the first court keeps the case and a second court cannot interfere.  Since Mrs. Woodcock filed first, she should have won.

However, Mrs. Woodcock had filed a suit for alimony, not divorce, which fell within the general rule so it should have been filed in her husband’s county.  The Baltimore judge dismissed her complaint for alimony and gave her permission to refile an amended complaint for divorce, which she did.

The husband appealed and the Maryland Court of Appeals said slow down.  Since the first case for alimony was filed in the wrong county, it didn’t count.  That meant the Wicomico court had jurisdiction over the case when the husband filed for divorce there.  And the Baltimore court couldn’t get it back by an amendment to the alimony complaint.

Woodcock v. Woodcock, 169 Md. 40; 179 A. 826 (1935)