As a marriage begins to dissolve spouses often decide to live in different places. One spouse may return home to live with family while the other spouse stays in the marital residence. This can create problems with a legal concept called jurisdiction. Before a party can be bound to follow a divorce court’s orders the court must have jurisdiction over that party. Jurisdiction is usually based on a party’s connections with or appearance in the state where the court sits, but what if one of the spouses in a divorce does not live in Texas?
There are still several methods parties can use to gain jurisdiction over a non-resident spouse. First, Texas law provides for jurisdiction over a non-resident spouse if the couple lived in Texas as their last marital residence within two years of filing for divorce. Even if the parties have not lived in Texas within the last two years there may still be good reasons for a Texas court to exercise jurisdiction based on the non-resident’s contacts and connections with the state. These types of “long-arm jurisdiction” can even extend to parties living in foreign countries, if allowed by international law.
What if your spouse has no connections with Texas whatsoever, and does not intend to return? In these cases it becomes very difficult to establish jurisdiction in a Texas court without consent or appearance by the non-resident spouse. The non-resident spouse may agree to appear in a Texas court but if not he or she may be able to simply ignore the divorce petition. Even if the Texas court does not have jurisdiction over the non-resident spouse, the parties may still be divorced. Texas law provides for “status adjustment” whereby the court can grant a divorce without addressing child custody or division of property. Status adjustment leaves many important issues unresolved, but it does allow parties to remarry without fear of violating bigamy laws. Jurisdiction is a complicated legal concept. If you want a divorce from a non-resident spouse, contact an experienced family law attorney immediately.