Jurisdiction refers to a court’s legal authority to make decisions in a case, and venue refers to the geographic location where a case should be heard. In California family law cases, jurisdiction and venue are determined by a combination of state and federal laws, as well as court rules.
The superior court has exclusive subject matter jurisdiction for cases regarding a dissolution of marriage, nullity of marriage, and legal separation of the parties – including exclusive authority to adjudicate issues of marital status, child custody, child support, spousal support, division of property, and attorney fees and costs. Family Codes §§200, 2010.
- California Superior Courts generally have jurisdiction over a divorce case if either spouse meets the residency requirement – where at least one spouse has been a resident of California for at least six months, and a resident of the county where the case is filed for at least three months prior to filing. Family Code §2320.
- There are other residency rules for legal separations, same sex couples, and domestic partners.
- Legal separation: You may file for legal separation as soon as either of you moves to California. If you or your spouse wants to file for divorce instead, you may change your legal separation to a divorce after either of you has resided in California, and a county within the state, for a certain period.
- Same-sex couples: If you got married in California but now live in a state that does not allow divorces for same-sex couples, you can file for divorce in the county where you got married. The court can end your marriage, but may not have the authority to make decisions about property, support, or children.
- Domestic partners: If your domestic partnership is registered in California, you do not need to satisfy the residency requirement. However, if neither you nor your partner meets the residency requirement, the court can end your partnership, but may not have the power to make decisions regarding property, support, or children. If your domestic partnership is not registered in California, you will have to meet the residency requirement.
- California has the power to make custody orders if either California (a) is the child’s “home state” when the case is commenced or (b) was the child’s “home state” within six months before commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from California but a parent or “person acting as a parent” continues to live in California. “Home state” is the state where the child lived with a parent or person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before commencement of the custody proceeding. If the child is younger than six months, it is the state where the child lived from birth.
- Jurisdiction over child support cases is generally based on the residency of the child or the parties involved.
- California courts can also exercise jurisdiction over parties who voluntarily submit to the court’s authority, even if they don’t meet the residency requirements.
- In California, family law cases are generally heard in the Superior Court of the county where either spouse or the child resides. However, if the parties agree, the case can be heard in a different county. CCP §395.
- In cases where the parties live in different counties, the case can be filed in either county.
- If the child is the subject of the case, the case should generally be filed in the county where the child has been living for the past six months.
- In cases where domestic violence is involved, the case may be filed in the county where the abuse occurred or where the victim resides.
It’s important to note that these are general guidelines, and there may be exceptions or special circumstances that affect jurisdiction and venue. It’s always a good idea to consult with an experienced family law attorney, such as Tony Luzuriaga and Mary Shafizadeh, to determine the proper jurisdiction and venue for your specific case.