The Importance of Establishing Proper Jurisdiction in Family Law Cases
In domestic relations proceedings, establishing proper jurisdiction is paramount. Upon the proper establishment of the two forms of jurisdiction needed, petitioners in a family law matter will be ready to have their case heard, but the likelihood of being heard only by a judge is high; contrary to belief, there is no right to a jury trial in a divorce proceeding.
In Alabama, a court must hold both subject matter and personal jurisdiction over a divorce case before it may hear the case. Subject matter jurisdiction, the first required type of jurisdiction for a court to hear a divorce case, is present if: (a) the status of the marriage is before the court; (b) a valid, statutory ground for divorce is pled; and (c) the residency requirement is met. Subsection (a) is fulfilled when the divorce pleading is filed, so long as at least one of the parties to the divorce is domiciled in Alabama. Under subsection (b), the ground stated for divorce must be sufficiently proven; if at least one of these grounds is not proven, a jurisdictional defect is said to have taken place and the proceedings will be deemed void.
Because of subsections (a) and (c), personal jurisdiction (further detailed below) is necessarily included in subject matter jurisdiction. Filing fees are always required, and differ in amount based on the county you are filing in. If the required filing fees are not paid, a jurisdictional defect is considered to have occurred. Because of this, careful planning is required for a properly filed divorce action to hold weight in Alabama’s court systems. For this reason, if you are considering proceeding with a domestic relations matter, it is highly important that you consult with an experienced family law attorney.