Selecting the Right Court for Your Divorce

by Michael F. Callahan

Last week I discussed why in some cases it may pay to shop around for a court to hear your divorce case.  This week’s article is about how to do that.

Divorce jurisdiction is based on residency.  The circuit courts of Maryland have jurisdiction to hear and decide your divorce case if one of the parties has resided in Maryland for at least twelve months prior to the filing of the application for divorce, or if the grounds for divorce arose in Maryland.  The Maryland Court of Appeals has held that, even if jurisdiction is based on the grounds arising in Maryland, one of the parties still has to be a Maryland resident at the time the case is filed.

In Virginia, the circuit court can hear your divorce case if one of the parties has been a bona fide resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia for the six month period preceding the filing of the Complaint for Divorce.  A Virginia statute permits active military service men and women stationed or living in Virginia for six months to file for divorce in Virginia even if they are residents of another state under the usual rules for determining residency.

The Superior Court of the District of Columbia has jurisdiction to hear and decide your divorce case if you or your spouse are a resident of the District on the date the case is filed and during the six months preceding that date.  And D.C. treats a member of the armed forces of the United States who resides in the District for six months as a D.C. for divorce jurisdiction purposes.

A couple of observations are in order.  First, if your divorce case is all set to go, grounds for divorce exist, you have a written Agreement, and you are both moving out of state, you may want to file the case while one of you is still a resident of this state.  This is because there will almost certainly be a waiting period before you can file for divorce in the courts of the state to which you move or to which your spouse moves.  Keep in mind though that you’ll have to return to this state at least once to testify in the divorce proceeding.

Second, you can file for divorce in D.C. and Virginia after being a resident for six months.  The required separation period for a no-fault divorce is also six months in D.C., and in Virginia if you have a written separation agreement and there are no minor children of the marriage.  The required separation period is twelve months in Maryland.  So if your case is settled and you’re moving out, and you want to be divorced sooner rather than later, consider moving to D.C. or Virginia to expedite your divorce.