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Divorce Jurisdiction in Florida

Jurisdiction is the authority of a court over a case and can be broken into two different types: subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction. Subject matter jurisdiction relates to different types or classes of cases. Personal jurisdiction relates to the court's authority over individuals. Venue, which is different than jurisdiction, is concerned with finding the proper court, geographically speaking, whose jurisdiction is to be invoked.

In a divorce action, original jurisdiction is vested in the circuit court. The Florida Supreme Court has mandated that all circuit courts establish a family law division which has jurisdiction over dissolution of marriage, custody, juvenile dependency, and delinquency cases. In order to meet and satisfy Florida law's requirement for jurisdiction in a divorce court, the Florida Statutes require that one of the parties to the divorce must have resided in Florida for the six months before the filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage. If the residence requirement has not been met, the court will lack subject matter jurisdiction and the action must be dismissed. Proof of residence must be established by testimony or affidavit of a third party, or production of a valid Florida driver's license, identification card, or voter registration card.

The court cannot assume jurisdiction solely on the unsubstantiated allegation of an individual contained in the petition for dissolution of marriage. Additionally, jurisdiction cannot be acquired or exercised by agreement of the parties. Whether an individual is a resident of the state is a mixed question of law and fact to be determined by the court.

The word "reside" contained in the Florida Statutes is generally interpreted to mean "legal residence" or "domicile", as opposed to a temporary residence. Typically, a resident is defined as one who lives in Florida with the intention to stay there. To satisfy the statutory requirement of residency, an individual must prove:

  1. their physical presence in the state for six months immediately preceding the date of the filing of the petition for divorce
  2. the intention to reside indefinitely in the state.

Some items that might be helpful for proving residence are

  • identification card
  • voter registration card
  • Florida Intangible Personal Property Tax Returns
  • homestead real property documents
  • automobile registrations
  • places of bank accounts and safety deposit boxes
  • places of keeping the petitioner's will
  • proof of place of filing Federal Income Tax Returns

Personal jurisdiction is different than subject matter jurisdiction. Personal jurisdiction is the court's jurisdiction over an individual and the power of the court to enforce orders or judgments concerning the person or property of that individual. Personal jurisdiction is normally obtained by service of process when the dissolution of marriage petition is served on the opposing party. Whether or not the court can exercise personal jurisdiction over an individual depends upon that person's contact with the state or circuit in the past, and on an on-going basis. Jurisdictional issues often rear their head in divorce proceedings. If you have questions related to whether a dissolution of marriage action is appropriately brought against you in the correct state or circuit, or questions over where you should file for a divorce, feel free to contact our office.

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