Tag Archive for: jurisdiction

I think my wife has a lot of shoes. But it is nowhere near Tracey Hejailan’s 80 pairs in one of her multiple walk-in closets in a house in Monte Carlo. She is divorcing her husband, multimillionaire, Maurice Amon, in New York, where the couple also has a home.

But Amon claims the shoes are evidence that the couple actually lives in Monaco.

The difference could be worth tens of millions because New York divorce law is based on shared martial property while Monaco divorce law is based on which spouse has legal title. At issue is the art collection, which includes a Basquiat and a Warhol.

When separated spouses in Maryland and the District of Columbia require the aid of the court to resolve issues of support or custody they know where to file their case – in the local Circuit Court in Maryland and in Superior Court in the District of Columbia. And if they have been separated for less than the period required for an absolute divorce, they can include a request for limited divorce (legal separation in DC) in the support and/or custody suit.

Not so in Virginia. The circuit courts are the trial courts of general jurisdiction, and are the trial courts preferred by lawyers, including family lawyers. But the court with jurisdiction of minors, including custody and support of minors, and support of spouses, is the Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court (“JDR”). The Circuit Court only has concurrent jurisdiction over these matters if there is a divorce case pending. And, unlike in Maryland and DC, when the spouses have been separated for less than the required period (one year in general, six months with a written separation agreement and no minor children), a complaint for limited divorce is often not an option because in Virginia there aren’t any no fault grounds for limited divorce (called divorce from bed & board or, in Latin, a mensa et thoro ).
In this situation, the spouse needing custody or support relief faces a choice. He or she can:

1. File a petition requesting custody and/or support relief in JDR;

2. Assert fault grounds and file a complaint for divorce from bed and board and for the custody and/or support relief in Circuit Court; or

3. Wait the one year period and then file a complaint in Circuit Court for final divorce (called divorce a vincula matrimonii) on separation grounds and for the custody and/or support relief.
Each of these choices has advantages and disadvantages which I will address in my next post.

Court Jurisdiction in Maryland

Court Jurisdiction Over a Divorce

In rem jurisdiction means jurisdiction over the thing or subject matter jurisdiction.  The courts of Maryland have subject matter jurisdiction to decide the marital status of the residents of Maryland. Therefore they have in rem jurisdiction to grant a divorce.

To order the payment of money, such as alimony, child support, counsel fees or a marital award, the court must also have in personam jurisdiction, or jurisdiction over the person.

Court Jurisdiction Over a Defendant

The Supreme Court has held that a person must have sufficient contact with a state before the courts can exercise personal jurisdiction over him or her.

The court has in personam jurisdiction over any defendant who lives, works or is served with a summons and complaint within the state.  But what about a person who does not meet these requirements?

The court can still assert in personam jurisdiction over a defendant if certain conditions are met under CJP Section 6-103.1 of the Maryland Code:

(a) Maryland must be the matrimonial domicile of the couple immediately before separation; or

(b) There is a written agreement to pay alimony, child support or counsel fees signed by one of the parties in Maryland; or

(c) There is an obligation to pay alimony, child support or counsel fees that arose out of the laws of the State of Maryland.

by Michael F. Callahan

We practice family law mostly in the Washington, DC commuting area, which includes DC Superior Court and the County Circuit Courts of the nearby Maryland and Virginia suburbs.  Divorce jurisdiction depends on a party’s residence at the time the court case is filed.  And divorce usually involves at least one party moving from the marital residence (more about that later).   So often there are at least two choices for filing the case even without any planning regarding where to file.

You may have read or heard that the basic law of divorce — grounds, property distribution, spousal support, child custody and child support — is similar in each of the three local jurisdictions.  Why then think about shopping around for a divorce court?

There are clear differences between the jurisdictions in certain aspects of the law.  Because of one of these clear differences, the most important issues in your case might be decided differently in each of the three jurisdictions.  It might be decided much differently (and better for you) in say, Virginia, than it would be in Maryland or the District of Columbia.  Armed with this knowledge before you move, since you’re moving anyway, maybe you’d decide to move to an apartment in Arlington for a while instead of one in Bethesda.

Next time, I’ll discuss how and when to pick the court for your divorce and how to put your choice into action.  In coming weeks, we’ll discuss the various differences in the laws that can result in big differences in the outcome of a particular case.