Litigating a family law case in the proper jurisdiction is essential to protecting the rights of all involved. In divorce cases in which a couple has resided in more than one jurisdiction throughout the course of their marriage, the issue of what state or country possesses the authority to rule over the proceedings may be hotly contested. Recently, a Florida court discussed the process of determining where jurisdiction over a divorce matter lies, in a case in which divorce proceedings were filed in both Spain and Florida. If you or your spouse seek to end your marriage, it is prudent to speak to a dedicated Florida family law attorney to discuss what steps you can take to safeguard your interests.
Factual and Procedural History
It is reported that the husband and wife, both of whom are citizens of Spain, were married in Spain in 2008. They had two children, after which they moved to Southern Florida. The couple was charged with crimes involving a bank in Luxembourg, after which they became involved in a disagreement over a contract the husband asked the wife to sign. The wife then took the children to another Florida city, after which the husband filed an emergency petition to retrieve the children and a divorce petition.
Allegedly, the husband then filed a second divorce petition in Spain. He subsequently dismissed the Florida petition, which prompted the wife to file her own divorce petition in Florida. The husband served the wife with the Spanish divorce petition and then filed a motion to stay the Florida action. The wife had not yet served the husband with her divorce petition. The trial court granted the husband’s motion, finding that Spain had jurisdiction over the matter, after which the wife appealed.
Determining Which Court Possesses Jurisdiction
Under Florida law, where multiple courts have concurrent jurisdiction over a matter, whichever court first exercises jurisdiction obtains the exclusive right to proceed with that case, pursuant to what is referred to as the principle of priority. While the principle is not applicable between independent jurisdictions as a matter of duty, it is exercised as a matter of comity. Thus, one court may stay proceedings if another court is handling a case involving the same issues and the same parties.
In the subject case, the court noted that while Florida originally had jurisdiction over the matter, it lost the right to exclusive jurisdiction when the husband dismissed his petition. The court explained, however, that while trial courts ordinarily will stay proceedings when a prior action involving the same matter was filed in another court, they do not always have to do so. Specifically, if there are special circumstances that warrant a denial of the stay, the court will retain jurisdiction. The court noted that such circumstances are present in divorce actions like the subject case, in which the parties’ homes, business interests, and children reside in Florida. As such, the appellate court reversed the trial court ruling.
Speak to a Capable Florida Attorney
The rules regarding property division, alimony, and custody can vary greatly from one jurisdiction to another, and it is critical that people seeking a divorce identify the correct court to rule on the matter to protect their rights. If you or your spouse intend to seek a divorce, the capable Florida family law attorneys of Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, P.A. can advise you of your options and assist you in pursuing a just and efficient resolution in your case. We can be reached via our form online or at 800-283-7442 to set up a meeting.