Can A Court Exercise Personal Jurisdiction Over A Non-Resident Defendant?

divorce jurisdictionQuestion:

Our divorce has not been finalized but we have had child support orders entered in the state my wife and children live (California).

Now that I live in another state (Washington), can I file for divorce in this state as long as I’ve met the residency requirements or does California have jurisdiction because it issued the child support order?


I am unable to give you legal advice on divorce. I can give general divorce help for men, though, my knowledge is based on Missouri divorce laws where I am licensed to practice.

Generally, a court is precluded from entering certain orders in a dissolution of marriage proceeding unless the court has personal jurisdiction over both parties. Where I practice, there are two potential ways for the courts to exercise personal jurisdiction in divorce proceedings over a non-resident defendant.

First, the court can exercise personal jurisdiction if the defendant ever lived in lawful marriage within the state. Second, the court can exercise personal jurisdiction if the defendant engaged in certain activities within the state.

If your wife does not have these contacts with the state of Washington, the court will likely not have personal jurisdiction over her. Failure to obtain personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant bars the court from entering orders pertaining to alimony/maintenance, child support, attorney’s fees, and division of property not within the state.

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Additionally, a court is precluded from entering orders pertaining to child custody unless they have jurisdiction over the children. The court’s jurisdiction over the custody of children is determined by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).

Pursuant to the UCCJEA, Washington would only have jurisdiction to enter a custody order if one of the following prerequisites is met: (1) Washington is or was the child’s “home state” within the last six months; (2) it is in the best interests of the child for Washington to have jurisdiction because a “significant connection” exists in Washington; (3) the child is physically present in Washington and has been either abandoned or faces an emergency; or (4) no other state has jurisdiction.

If none of these provisions apply, it is likely Washington does not have jurisdiction to enter orders regarding custody and  you need to file for dissolution in California.

Remember, I am unable to provide you with anything more than divorce tips for men, so please consult with an attorney in your jurisdiction.

To arrange an initial consultation to discuss divorce rights for men with a Cordell & Cordell attorney, including Brittany Brown, a staff attorney in the St. Louis office, contact Cordell & Cordell.

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One comment on “Can A Court Exercise Personal Jurisdiction Over A Non-Resident Defendant?

    Faced with a similar, yet different scenario
    I challenged the state of Louisiana in Georgia, and successfully won, since Louisiana refused to send any paperwork in regards to that child support claim they were hoping Georgia would enforce upon me. But, now I’ve moved to the state of Virginia, with a brief 3 week stay in Maryland at a sister’s house while transitioning to the area. but that was over 2 years ago, and the request was filed in January of this year. LONG after I moved on to Virginia. But when Louisiana found out I moved, they filed a claim in Maryland to have them enforce the child support judgment. After threatening me with an arrest, I signed the paperwork and appear this coming Friday. I’m trying to determine, if I WAS NOT ever a resident of Maryland, do they have any jurisdictional rights here? My opinion is this should go back to Louisiana claiming that I am NOT resident of Maryland! Correct? If not, under what authority does Maryland have rights to attempt collection for another state on a non-resident? – Thanks in advance for any comments which may help me.

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