Jurisdiction means that a court has authority or power to make a legal decision. Two types of jurisdiction are important in divorce. Personal jurisdiction must be acquired by serving the summons and complaint on the individual. The court must also have jurisdiction over the parties based on their county and state of residence, a requirement more fully discussed below.
First, the complaint for divorce must establish that the court has jurisdiction to grant a divorce to the one asking for it. In Michigan a court cannot grant a divorce unless, immediately prior to filing the complaint for divorce, either the plaintiff (the person filing the complaint for divorce) or the defendant (the person responding to the complaint for divorce) has been a resident of the state of Michigan for at least 180 days. In addition, for a court of a particular county to have jurisdiction over a divorce proceeding, one or both spouses must have been a resident of that county for at least 10 days immediately prior to filing the complaint for divorce (Michigan Compiled Laws section 552.9).
Once a Michigan court starts a divorce case, that court in nearly all cases must adjudicate the divorce to conclusion, even if the plaintiff moves out of the county, unless one of the parties files a motion to change venue (location of the proceeding). If one party still resides in the county that has jurisdiction or in a contiguous county, the court will not change venue to a different county. So if you plan to move, discuss this with your attorney. This is of greatest concern if there are minor children involved, as the court that grants your divorce will continue to exercise jurisdiction over the children and will have exclusive power to determine parenting time, support, custody, and other important aspects of the children’s care for years to come after the divorce is granted. In certain cases it is preferable to wait to file the complaint for divorce until after the move, as it is more convenient to have the action decided in the new county of residence.
The second type of jurisdiction is personal jurisdiction, or the authority of the court to make decisions affecting a particular person. To be subject to personal jurisdiction, the defendant in a divorce case must be served with the summons and complaint. In most cases, this is not difficult, especially where the parties reside in the same locale. However, where the defendant’s whereabouts are unknown or if he is in a different city, state, or even out of the country, it may be more challenging to establish personal jurisdiction. If you anticipate problems locating your spouse to serve papers on him or her, let your attorney know, as this can add time and expense. Even in the most challenging geographical circumstances, the court rules provide for alternate service by publication and other means.
Michigan law requires a waiting period before a judgment of divorce can be entered. This begins to run on the date the summons is issued by the court, regardless of the date the complaint is actually served on the defendant. In divorces with children, the minimum waiting period is 182 days. Where no minor children are involved, this is shortened to 60 days. In certain cases, where good cause is shown, the court will shorten the waiting period. However, this is unusual, and do not expect the waiting period to be shortened absent some compelling circumstance. Talk to your attorney about a reasonable timeline. In many counties, it takes longer than the statutory minimum for a judgment of divorce to enter, especially if issues such as custody are contested.
If you have questions about these somewhat technical aspects of divorce law, call my Holland, Michigan office for a free initial consultation. I handle divorce and family law cases in the West Michigan counties of Ottawa, Kent, Allegan and Muskegon.
© 2019 Thomas C. Kates, Attorney and Mediator