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What is Jurisdiction and Does It Matter in my Florida Marital and Family Law case?

By: Danielle Ostrovsky August 30, 2023 1:29 am

Time to read: 5 3 Minutes

What is Jurisdiction and Does It Matter in my Florida Marital and Family Law case?

Did You Know?

In order to initiate a divorce in Florida, it is necessary for at least one of the spouses to have been a resident of the state for a minimum of six months. Therefore, if you are currently residing in Florida and have maintained your residence here for the preceding six months, you are eligible to file for divorce within the state of Florida.

Understanding Jurisdiction in Legal Terms

Jurisdiction refers to the legal authority granted to a court to hear and decide cases. In the context of marital and family law, the concept of jurisdiction can have significant implications for your divorce, child custody, alimony, or other related proceedings.

Types of Jurisdiction: Subject-Matter and Personal

Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

Subject-matter jurisdiction concerns the type of cases a court is authorized to hear and decide. While litigating parties may waive personal jurisdiction, they cannot waive subject-matter jurisdiction.

Personal Jurisdiction

On the other hand, personal jurisdiction relates to the court’s authority over the individuals involved in a case. Personal jurisdiction can be obtained in three (3) ways: First, there is service on the respondent within the state of Florida. Second, there is a substitute service for  the respondent within the state of Florida. Third, there is service outside the state of Florida on a non-resident respondent pursuant to the long arm statute. The long arm statute means that a Florida court has personal jurisdiction over a nonresident respondent if the respondent engages in “substantial and not isolated” activities within the state of Florida.

Why Jurisdiction Matters in Family Law Cases

Differing State Laws

One reason jurisdiction is crucial in marital and family law matters is that different states have various laws and practices concerning divorce, child custody, and spousal support. For example, some states may be more generous or restrictive in their alimony awards. Having your case heard in one state versus another can significantly affect its outcome.

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Case Logistics

Another practical aspect is the location. If you and your spouse live in different states or even different counties within Florida, coordinating court appearances, legal consultations, and other logistical elements can be challenging and stressful.

Avoiding Forum Shopping

Sometimes, parties to a case may try to initiate proceedings in a jurisdiction perceived to be more favorable to their circumstances – a practice known as forum shopping. Understanding how jurisdiction works can protect you from such tactics.

Specifics of Jurisdiction in Florida Marital and Family Law Cases

Residency Requirement for Filing for Divorce

Florida requires that at least one spouse must have resided in the state of Florida for a minimum of six months before filing for divorce.

Child Custody and the UCCJEA

Florida has adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which sets rules for which state has jurisdiction in child custody matters. Typically, it’s the child’s home state, defined as the state where they have lived for at least six consecutive months prior to the legal action being filed.

Spousal Support and Child Support

The court that has jurisdiction over the divorce or child custody matter will also deal with related financial issues such as alimony and child support. Subject matter jurisdiction over the marriage allows a Florida court to grant only a divorce. However, personal jurisdiction is required for the adjudication of financial issues such as spousal support and child support.

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International Considerations in Family Law Jurisdiction

Globalization has made our world more interconnected than ever before. This brings an additional layer of complexity when family law cases cross international borders. Imagine a scenario where one spouse is a U.S. citizen living in Florida, and the other is a foreign national residing in another country. In these cases, international treaties and conventions, such as the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, may come into play. These laws can dictate which court holds jurisdiction, and they can be particularly crucial in child custody disputes. Familiarizing yourself with international jurisdiction rules, therefore, becomes an essential aspect of preparing for a marital or family law case that crosses borders.

Exceptional Circumstances

While jurisdictional rules provide a general framework, exceptions do exist. Emergency situations involving immediate harm to a child may permit a court to take emergency jurisdiction.

Emergency Jurisdiction: The Details

We touched upon the concept of emergency jurisdiction, an exception to the general rules. It’s worth delving into this subject a bit more for its potential relevance. Emergency jurisdiction typically arises in situations where a child is present in the state of Florida and has been abandoned or is in immediate physical danger. In these cases, a Florida court may take “temporary emergency jurisdiction” to ensure the child’s immediate safety, even if the child hasn’t been living in Florida for the mandatory six months. This kind of jurisdiction is, by nature, temporary and designed to address the immediate crisis at hand. After the issue is resolved, the case will generally transfer back to the court that has proper jurisdiction.

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Conclusion: The Significance of Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction may seem like a dry legal concept, but its influence can be felt across various aspects of your marital and family law case. From affecting the applicable law to impacting the logistical aspects of pursuing legal action, the issue of jurisdiction can be pivotal.

Therefore, understanding jurisdiction is not merely an academic exercise. It has real-world implications that can shape the trajectory of your legal case, often in ways that are both subtle and profound. Before proceeding with any family law matter, it’s advisable to consult with a knowledgeable Florida Family Law Firm like Ostrovsky Law to understand how jurisdiction could impact your specific circumstances and to receive expert guidance tailored to your situation.

Summary

  • Jurisdiction is the legal authority granted to a court to hear and decide cases.
  • In the context of marital and family law, jurisdiction can have significant implications for your divorce, child custody, alimony, or other related proceedings.
  • There are two types of jurisdiction: subject-matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction.
  • Subject-matter jurisdiction concerns the type of cases a court is authorized to hear and decide; meanwhile, personal jurisdiction relates to the court’s authority over the individuals involved in a case. Personal jurisdiction can be waived. Subject-matter jurisdiction cannot be waived.
  • Jurisdiction matters in family law cases because different states have various laws and practices concerning divorce, child custody, and spousal support. It also matters because of the logistical aspects of coordinating court appearances, legal consultations, and other matters.
  • Understanding jurisdiction can protect you from forum shopping, which is when parties to a case try to initiate proceedings in a jurisdiction perceived to be more favorable to their circumstances.
  • International considerations in family law jurisdiction can be complex. Globalization has made our world more interconnected than ever before, and this brings an additional layer of complexity when family law cases cross international borders.
  • Familiarizing yourself with international jurisdiction rules, therefore, becomes an essential aspect of preparing for a marital or family law case that crosses borders.

In Florida, the specific requirements for jurisdiction in divorce, child custody, and spousal support cases are as follows:

  • Divorce: At least one spouse must have resided in the state of Florida for a minimum of six months before filing for divorce.
  • Child custody: Florida has adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which sets rules for which state has jurisdiction in child custody matters. Typically, it’s the child’s home state, defined as the state where they have lived with a parent for six consecutive months prior to the legal action.
  • Spousal support and child support: The court that has jurisdiction over the divorce or child custody matter will also deal with related financial issues like alimony and child support. However, the court must have personal jurisdiction over the respondent in order to hear and decide financial issues.

FAQs

What does the term “jurisdiction” mean in family law?

Jurisdiction in family law refers to a court’s authority to hear and make decisions in a legal case. It is the power that a court holds to handle a particular matter. There are two types of jurisdiction: subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction.

What is subject matter jurisdiction in family law?

Subject matter jurisdiction pertains to a court’s ability to hear and decide specific types of cases.  

What are the requirements for subject matter jurisdiction in Florida family law?

The requirements for subject matter jurisdiction within Florida’s family law domain vary according to the type of case. For Florida divorce proceedings, one of the parties must have resided in Florida for 6 months before the filing of the petition. The term “reside” generally means a legal residence in Florida with an intention to stay there, as opposed to a temporary residence. As long as this residency requirement is met and one of the spouses meets the residency requirement, a Florida court has subject matter jurisdiction over the divorce proceedings and can grant a divorce. If the filing party is seeking alimony, child support, or division of property, then the court must also have personal jurisdiction over the respondent.

What are the consequences if a court lacks jurisdiction?

If a court lacks jurisdiction over a case, it will result in the dismissal of the case. This means the legal matter will be terminated, and the court will not be able to issue any rulings on the case. If the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the marriage, the Florida court can grant the divorce. However, the Court must also have personal jurisdiction to hear and decide all other issues, including property disputes and the provision of support.

Can jurisdiction be waived in a family law case?

Subject matter jurisdiction is a mandatory requirement, and it cannot be waived by either party. However, personal jurisdiction can be waived

Danielle Ostrovsky

Danielle Ostrovsky is the founding partner of Ostrovsky Law, a boutique law firm that practices exclusively in the area of marital and family law throughout Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties.

With a sole focus on marital and family law, Danielle has refined her skills and gained extensive experience in divorce, spousal support, parental responsibility, timesharing, paternity, equitable distribution of assets and liabilities, high net worth asset division, child support, modifications and contempt of support, and prenuptial/postnuptial agreements.

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