Different Types of Jurisdiction

By Kimberly N. Gray

Attorney, Cordell & Cordell

Jurisdiction issues are frequently discussed on DadsDivorce.com, but one area that needs clarifying is the difference between subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction.

Subject matter jurisdiction refers to the nature of the claim. It gives the court the power to hear and determine cases of the general class to which the proceedings in question belong.

Many state court systems are divided into jurisdictions such as criminal, civil, probate, or family court. A court within any one of these divisions would lack subject matter jurisdiction to hear a case regarding matters assigned to another division.

Therefore, a person who seeks child custody and/or a dissolution of marriage must go to a court that has authority in these types of matters if the court system is so divided.

In order for a court to have subject matter jurisdiction over a divorce action, at least one spouse must have lived in the county where the court is located for a certain period of time. For instance, in Missouri where I practice, this period of time is 90 days.

In order for a court to have subject matter jurisdiction to determine child custody matters, the state must have been the home state of the child at the time of the commencement of the proceeding and for a minimum of 6 months preceeding; the child and his/her parents must have significant connections with the state; and there must be available in the state substantial evidence concerning the child’s present and future care, protection, training and personal relationships.

Personal jurisdiction is the power of a court to hear and determine a lawsuit involving a person due to the fact that the person has some contact with the place where the court is located. It gives the court the authority to make decisions binding on the persons involved in a civil case.

Every state has personal jurisdiction over people within its boundaries. This includes all residents of a state, even those who are outside of the state for a short period of time and non-residents who have entered the state.

In order for a court to have personal jurisdiction over a person, the person must have been personally served and that person must have at least some contacts with the state in which the court is located. Determining if a person has sufficient contacts with the state can be difficult and needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Generally, with a dissolution proceeding, if a person regularly goes into a state to conduct business or spends a good deal of time vacationing in that state, a court may find that person has sufficient contacts.

If the person does not have sufficient contacts with the state, a dissolution of marriage may still be granted, but the court can not make any decisions affecting the division of property, maintenance or child support.

If you are interested in obtaining a dissolution of marriage, you will need to file in the state and county in which you have lived for the period of time required by your state. If children are involved, you will need to file in the state and county in which the children are living. In addition, you will need to file in the family court division if your states court system is divided.

After the filing of your action, you will receive a summons packet. Your spouse will need to be personally served in order for the court to have the authority to make binding decisions involving her.

If you are interested in commencing a dissolution or paternity action, it is always best to contact a qualified domestic relations attorney that is licensed in your state to discuss the laws applicable to your state and to your matter.

Cordell & Cordell has men’s divorce lawyers located nationwide.


divorce lawyer Kimberly GrayKimberly N. Gray is an Associate Attorney in the Kansas City, Missouri office of Cordell & Cordell where she practices domestic relations exclusively. Ms. Gray is licensed in the state of Missouri. Ms. Gray received her B.A. in Elementary Education from Tuskegee University and her Juris Doctor from the University of Missouri – Columbia School of Law, where she participated in the Domestic Violence Clinic and served as Guardian ad Litem for children in need of care. 

Prior to working at Cordell & Cordell, Ms. Gray worked as an attorney for the Juvenile Officer of Jackson County where she prosecuted child abuse and neglect cases. As a result, she is a strong advocate for children.

Ms. Gray is a member of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association, the American Bar Association and the Young Lawyers Association.

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