If you file for divorce in the wrong place, that error will likely result in a dismissal, costing you valuable time and resources. This risk is a particularly prominent one if yours is a high-dollar divorce. High-asset couples are more likely to have multiple homes, which may give spouses the idea they have more options for where to file than they actually have. Each state has a series of requirements that must be met before the state will allow a person to obtain a judgment of divorce there. Before you proceed with filing your divorce petition with a court in Florida, be sure you have the legal counsel you need from a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney to get your divorce as efficiently and effectively as possible.
R.L. and L.L. were a couple whose divorce case became caught up in this residency requirement. The wife filed for divorce and the trial court awarded her exclusive use of a Pinellas County home as well as nearly $16,000 per month in alimony. The husband, though, appealed and the appeals court ruled in his favor.
The reason this wife’s divorce case unraveled was because of Florida’s rules for subject matter jurisdiction for divorces. “Subject matter jurisdiction” means the legal authority of a court to hear, and issue orders in, particular types of cases. Even if both spouses desire for a Florida court to resolve their divorce case, Florida courts cannot do so if subject matter jurisdiction isn’t there.
You must be ‘actually present’ in Florida, and do so for at least 6 months
One of the biggest elements of subject matter jurisdiction when it comes to filing a divorce in Florida is where the spouses live. Florida law says that at least one of the spouses must have lived in Florida for a minimum of six months before the divorce petition was filed, or else the court doesn’t have jurisdiction and can’t rule.
In this case, the wife suffered a significant stroke in September 2016. From December 2016 to April 2017, she stayed at the couple’s home in Germany. For two months after that, the wife stayed at a rehabilitation facility in Switzerland. After that, she stayed at a facility near a nephew in Indiana and remained there until May 2018. She filed her petition for divorce in Pinellas County in August 2017. The husband similarly was not living in Florida during the six-month period from February to August 2017, as he lived in Germany during a portion of that period.
That meant this couple couldn’t get a Florida divorce based on a petition filed in August 2017. Florida law is very clear that Florida residency, for purposes of court jurisdiction in a divorce action, requires an “actual presence” in the state. So, even if, during those six months, you had every intention to make Florida your home, and even if the reason you weren’t yet in Florida was due to some entirely valid reason (like this wife’s serious health issues,) a complete absence from Florida during the six month before the divorce filing will mean the court lacks jurisdiction and can’t grant you the outcome you’re seeking.
Once you’ve decided to get a divorce, chances are you want the process to proceed as swiftly as possible. Filing in the wrong court will only stand to delay your getting the outcome you seek, as well as waste valuable resources. The right legal team can play an invaluable role in helping you avoid this kind of pitfall, among many others. To be sure you have that kind of effective legal advocate on your side, retain the skilled South Florida family law attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman.
Contact us online or by calling (954) 237-1777 to schedule your consultation.