Jurisdiction; Where to Sue.

Jurisdiction is one of those legal terms we hear a lot, but aren’t always sure what it means.  In the legal world, for a Court to be able to act upon a  filed complaint and grant relief to a party, the Court must have jurisdiction.

Jurisdiction provides the Court authority to makes decisions over a party and the topic of their lawsuit.

Mississippi law provides rules for determining if a Court has jurisdiction and where that may be.  MCA § 93-5-5, contains the residency requirements for a divorce  action.  Additionally, all actions for divorce will be filed in the Chancery Court for the appropriate county.

The jurisdiction of the chancery court in suits for divorce shall be confined to the following cases:

(a) Where one (1) of the parties has been an actual bonafide resident within this state for six (6) months next preceding the commencement of the suit. If a member of the armed services of the United States is stationed in the state and residing within the state with his spouse, such person and his spouse shall be considered actual bonafide residents of the state for the purposes of this section, provided they were residing within the state at the time of the separation of the parties.

(b) In any case where the proof shows that a residence was acquired in this state with a purpose of securing a divorce, the court shall not take jurisdiction thereof, but dismiss the bill at the cost of complainant.

In plain terms, this means you file your divorce action in your home county, or the County that you have resided in for at least 6 months, immediately filing the action.  If you were married in another stated and meet the Mississippi residency requirements you file in Mississippi.  If were married on the Coast, but live in Jackson and have for over 6 months you file in Jackson.  Sometimes, if you wish to file in your current area, but have not met the residency requirements you may have to wait.  Sometimes there are disputes as to residency and the parties can litigate where the case should be litigated.  Some states have different residency requirements than Mississippi so don’t bank on the 6 months if you are in another state.

There are also a number of exceptions or tweaks to the jurisdictional rules.  Another Court, or State, could have “emergency jurisdiction” in child custody cases pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act. (UCCJEA).  Also, if your divorce was originally in another state or another county, that original Court would have original jurisdiction and there are additional rules to “transfer” jurisdiction and in some instance you cannot move it.  Military family law cases also have exceptions to the traditional jurisdiction rules.

Jurisdiction is a critical aspect to consider when filing.  It is imperative that your case be filed in the right place geographically and the right Court.  You also may have options between differing Courts based on what is at issue in your case.  Talk to your lawyer about where your case should be filed.

Matthew is a family law attorney and native Mississippian.  Follow his blog, here, at http://www.BowTieLawyer.wp.com.

You may also contact Matthew with your family law or jurisdictional question or concern at (601) 850-8000 or Matthew@wmtlawfirm.com.

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