Does the court hearing your divorce case have full jurisdiction?
When divorcing, if spouses cannot agree on a fair and equitable division of marital property, they rely on the court to decide who gets what. That seems like a full proof way of settling the argument, right? Well, yes and no.
Simply put, courts have jurisdiction to render decisions on divorce or annulment. They also can divide or confirm marital property. But not all courts can do both in every divorce case.
It all comes down to whether the court has jurisdiction over that marriage, spouses and/or marital assets. Jurisdiction is the official power to make legal decisions and judgements, but a court generally only has jurisdiction within the boundaries of its state or county. Courts cannot render a verdict on a marriage or marital property they have no legal jurisdiction over.
For example, there can be a case where spouses were married in Massachusetts and lived there with all joint assets for 10 years. But then they separated and one spouse moved to Denton County, Texas for six months before ultimately filing for divorce in Denton County. In this case, one spouse may now be a resident of Texas and the other one is not. There is also a good chance their community property is divided between the two states. Absent an agreement, the Texas Court does not have the power to convey property not located in Texas (and may not have jurisdiction over the non-resident) and the Texas spouse may be required to go back to Massachusetts to get divorced and seek a property award.
Here are two types of jurisdictions to keep in mind:
When a court has subject-matter jurisdiction, it can decide on any matters related to the divorce, including the divorce itself and division/confirmation of the spouses’ marital property. This is conditioned upon the court granting the divorce or annulment. If the court should decide to deny the divorce or annulment, any further judgements would be void.
Personal jurisdiction over both spouses
A key to a court having power to divide and confirm marital property depends on whether the court has personal jurisdiction over both spouses and where the property is located. Personal jurisdiction means the court can settle matters affecting spouses who live in the same territory/state as the court. If the court has personal jurisdiction over the spouses, the court also can only act on marital property that is located within the state.
Keep in mind that although a Texas court does not have the power to adjudicate or convey title to property located in another state, a Texas court can, if it has personal jurisdiction over someone, indirectly affect title to property located in another state in the following ways:
- Sell and distribute proceeds
- Divide and order conveyance
So remember, the Texas Family Code states that a court must divide the spouses’ community property and confirm their separate property in a decree of divorce or annulment. But the court’s power to render a divorce or annulment does not, by itself, give the court jurisdiction to divide the spouses’ community property or confirm separate property.
At the end of the day, you need to choose a court that can make the correct, fair and all-encompassing decision for you and your family.
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