Ohio attorney Dalma Grandjean says complications may arise when soon-to-be-exes live in different states
on September 27, 2021
Updated on May 3, 2022
Divorce laws covering child support, custody and other issues can vary greatly from state to state. And if the divorcing spouses live in different states, it is sometimes difficult to even decide which state has jurisdiction.
“If there is a dispute, the courts will decide,” says Dalma C. Grandjean, a family law attorney who practices at Buckley King in Dayton, Ohio. “First, the court must find that at least one of the spouses meets the [six-month] residency requirement. As long as the residency requirement is met and the other party is properly served, the court can grant a divorce.”
The process is the same as in a single-state divorce proceeding once jurisdiction is decided.
But if one spouse does not have a connection—such as property ownership or frequent visits—to a state where the other spouse files for divorce, things can get sticky. “If the court does not have personal jurisdiction over the out-of-state party, the court will not be able to divide marital property, allocate responsibility for marital debt, nor order support,” Grandjean says.
“If more than one state could have jurisdiction, and the spouses each file in a separate state, the divorce will proceed in the state of the party who was first to initiate the divorce proceeding by getting the other party served.”
Child custody disputes
And if custody arrangements are involved, minor children usually must have lived in a state for six months in order for that state to have jurisdiction.
“The parent located in the state where the parties are being divorced tends to have a home-court advantage, while the parent with whom the children are residing has an important advantage if the children are doing well in his or her custody. Courts generally prefer to disrupt the children’s lives as little as possible,” Grandjean notes.
She advises parents seeking custody not to move out of state during the divorce process, unless there is a strong justification that the relocation is in the children’s best interest.
“Deciding to move to across state lines during a divorce in order to follow a new love interest would not likely to be favorably viewed,” she notes.
Even after the divorce is final, moving out of state can still pose problems in a child custody case.
“If the parties are already divorced and the custodial parent wants to move out of state, that parent will need to notify the court and the other parent, who may file a motion to prevent the parent from leaving the state with the children,” says Grandjean. “The relocating parent may lose custody if the court does not consider the move to be in the children’s best interests.”
Find a good divorce attorney
In any divorce case, it’s advisable to hire an experienced family law attorney. As for couples who decide to go the DIY route? “They are taking a big risk,” Grandjean says. “The only people who should consider this are people with a short-term marriage who acquired few assets and debts during the marriage and who have no minor children. Even they are advised to at least meet with an attorney to go over the proposed divorce agreement.”
For more information, see our overview on divorce law.