May 2, 2007

Out of state: how does Oregon get jurisdiction over my divorce?

A court in Oregon needs two types of jurisdiction in order to hear a dissolution of marriage (divorce) case and to make it stick. The first type of jurisdiction is personal jurisdiction, which means the court has the power over the parties involved in the case. The second type of jursidiction is subject matter jurisdiction, which means the court has the authority to hear the type of case that’s in front of it. [Both types of jursidiction are necessary for all court actions, not just divorces.]

Personal jursidiction over a person can be acquired pretty easily: if you’re served with papers in Oregon, that’ll do it, or if you own property in Oregon or have a lot of contacts with Oregon.

By contrast, subject matter jurisdiction in a dissolution stems from Oregon statutes which give the courts the authority to hear dissolution cases.

The Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) lay out the rules for whether or not a case is appropriate to be heard in Oregon. The law requires that at least one of the parties has been a resident of Oregon for six months or more. ORS 107.075.

In a separation case, a party can file in Oregon without having lived in Oregon for six months or more, but the party must be a resident of Oregon or be domiciled in Oregon. (Legally speaking, “domiciled” means a party lives in the state and has the intention of remaining there indefinitely.)

Jurisdiction in cases involving child custody can be much trickier because of specific statutes adopted by states, including Oregon, which were crafted to protect children in dissolution or custody cases. We’ll talk about child custody jurisdiction and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) in a future post.