Jurisdiction and Venue Issues in Florida Divorce
Questions regarding jurisdiction and venue are often the first to arise in divorce, child custody, or child support proceedings. The terms jurisdiction and venue each have distinct meanings and ramifications in family law matters and may be confusing to someone who has to deal with them.
Generally, the term jurisdiction refers to the legal power or authority for a particular branch of a court system to hear and adjudicate a claim. In Florida, courts categorized as judicial circuit courts have jurisdiction over contested dissolution of marriage proceedings (commonly known as divorce) as well as time-sharing (commonly known as child custody) and child support proceedings. Florida has a total of sixty-seven counties that are covered by twenty “sections” of these judicial circuit courts. For example, the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court covers the counties of Duval, Clay, and Nassau. Each circuit court will have a location at the courthouse in each of its respective counties.
For a Florida circuit court to have jurisdiction over dissolution of marriage proceedings, at least one of the parties to the marriage must have resided or lived in Florida for at least six months before filing for a dissolution of marriage. This residency requirement can be proven by a sworn affidavit of a third party.
While child custody and support jurisdiction determinations can become very complicated, the Florida circuit courts generally will have jurisdiction over these matters if Florida is the “home state” of the child, which means the state in which the child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child-custody proceeding. In the case of a child less than six months of age, the home state is the state in which the child lived from birth with any of the persons mentioned (parent, person acting as parent, etc.). A period of temporary absence of any of the mentioned persons is part of the time period.
Venue in Florida Divorce & Family Law Cases
Once Florida judicial circuit courts have jurisdiction, the term venue then comes into play. Venue refers to which geographical court location is appropriate for hearing proceedings and, in the State of Florida, essentially what county’s courthouse should a case be filed and heard in.
In a contested dissolution of marriage action, the proper venue for filing a petition for dissolution would be in the circuit court in the last county where both the husband and wife lived together with the common intent to be married. This means that if both spouses lived together in Duval County as a married couple and thereafter separated and one spouse moved from Duval County to any other county in Florida, the dissolution of marriage petition would have to be filed with the Clerk of Court for the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court in Duval County.
Another matter that must be considered when determining the proper venue is whether a minor child is involved and custody or child support payments will be an issue. If the action for custody or support is coupled with the action for dissolution of marriage, then the venue will be according to the rule discussed above. However, if the action for custody or support is separate and unconnected to an action for dissolution of marriage, then the venue will be in the county where the petitioner or the parties’ minor child is physically present and refused support by the prospective supporting spouse.
However, venue may also be contested and changed under appropriate circumstances, generally if it can be shown that a party cannot receive a fair trial in the county where the proceedings begin. A motion for change of venue must be filed within ten days after the action for dissolution, child support, or custody is at issue, unless the party requesting the change can show good cause for requesting the change after the ten day time frame outlined by the Florida Statutes.
Florida law also provides that if the proper venue is a hardship on the parties because both parties moved after separation and now live in different counties, either party can ask for a change of venue to an appropriate judicial circuit court that has jurisdiction. This allows the parties to mutually agree to a different venue (county) if both parties believe it is in their best interest to be in a different venue. However, if the court determines that venue is not in the interest of one or both parties after a change of venue, the court will change the venue back to the original venue for the fairness and convenience of the parties. Finally, Florida law also makes venue issues less complicated by allowing testimony of witnesses from the changed venue to be taken by alternative methods, such as telephone or video conference.
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If you have questions about family law or divorce in Jacksonville, Florida, please contact us at 904-339-5298 or through this website. Your first consultation is free.