Understanding Jurisdiction Requirements for Obtaining a Valid Divorce for Civilians
In most states, getting married is relatively easy. You usually just need a license, a ceremony, and two people who are at least 18 years old (with some exceptions and additional requirements that can vary from state to state). Getting a divorce, on the other hand, is not as easy.
(Note: There are separate qualifications to take into consideration if you are going through divorce as a military servicemember. This article covers the civilian aspects of the process — in a future article, we'll explain what changes for members of the Armed Forces.)
In most states, a person does not have to be domiciled in a state for a certain period of time in order to get married in that state. However, in order to get divorced, most states require at least one of the spouses to be domiciled in the state for a certain period of time.
What does it mean to be “domiciled”? Some facts that may be used to determine where a person is domiciled are:
- Where the person has purchased or rented a home
- Where the person has filed his or her income taxes
- Where the person has obtained a valid driver's license or ID
- Where the person has his or her car titled
- Where the person maintains his or her personal property
- Where the person works
Why Does This Matter?
The domicile requirement is important because it provides the court with jurisdiction. A court needs to have jurisdiction for a divorce decree to be valid. If the divorce is not valid, the parties may still be married. Marriage has numerous implications, especially for inheritance purposes; a surviving spouse can potentially inherit through intestate succession laws.
Furthermore, if the court has jurisdiction, then its divorce decree will be recognized in the courts of all other states under the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution, provided that there are no other issues. However, if the court does not have jurisdiction to issue the divorce decree, then the decree is likely not entitled to full faith and credit and may not be recognized in other states.
Domicile in the DMV
To obtain a valid divorce in Virginia, one of the spouses must be domiciled in Virginia at the time of filing the complaint for divorce and for at least 6 months immediately prior to the time of filing. For example, if a person moved to Virginia on April 1st and tried to file for divorce in a Virginia court on May 1st, the court would not have jurisdiction since the person was only domiciled there for one month. The District of Columbia has this same 6-month requirement, with an exception for same-sex couples seeking a divorce that meet certain requirements.
In Maryland, except for a narrow exception, one of the spouses must be domiciled in Maryland for at least 6 months prior to filing for divorce for a Maryland court to have jurisdiction.
The attorneys at Patriots Law Group have extensive experience handling family law matters, especially divorce matters for military and civilian clients. We are familiar with the state laws of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, and can help make sure that your divorce is valid and recognized across the United States.
DISCLAIMER: The information above is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as legal advice for any particular situation. No attorney-client relationship is intended or created by this information and may not be relied upon based on the above-statements. Each individual situation is different and therefore a consultation is necessary before any advice can be relied upon as appropriate and accurate for your situation. This information is current as of January 15, 2020. No representation is intended for whether this information remains current after this date. Please call Patriots Law Group at 301-952-9000 to set up a consultation if you wish to obtain specific legal advice concerning your situation.