Most of the time, jurisdiction in family law cases is so simple there is no reason to think about it. But some of the time, it is incredibly frustrating. This is in part because there are several sources of jurisdiction in family law cases, each with venue provisions, and varying standards based on the type of relief sought, so that one state may have jurisdiction for one issue while another has jurisdiction for the remaining issues.
First, there is simply general Georgia and constitutional law on whether you can file a lawsuit. A resident of Georgia can file a family law case against a defendant who resides in Georgia or who is under the long arm statute. (But don’t forget the residence requirement for an action for divorce: one party must reside in Georgia for 6 months prior to filing.)
Second, there is the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). You must have jurisdiction in Georgia for original or continuing and exclusive jurisdiction in order to file an original or modification action for child support or alimony. If you have UIFSA jurisdiction, you can use an even longer long arm statute than the general Georgia long arm.
Then, there’s the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). To avoid competing child custody orders, you must satisfy the criteria for jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. And again, if you have UCCJEA jurisdiction, you gain access to an even longer long arm statute than the regular Georgia long arm. The JAG Corps runs into more jurisdiction questions than most attorneys, and has developed an excellent outline on the basic parameters of jurisdiction under UIFSA & UCCJEA.
The Georgia Court of Appeals recently issued two new decisions interpreting the UCCJEA. In Cohen v. Cohen, the mother and child moved to West Virginia in 2007, but frequently returned to Georgia. The Court of Appeals upheld Chatham Superior Court Judge Brannen’s decision that Georgia had home state jurisdiction pursuant to the UCCJEA. This was because the West Virginia court had issued an order finding that Mother was still a resident of the state of Georgia.
In Murillo v. Murillo, the Court of Appeals remanded a decision by Fulton Superior Court Judge Wright to release continuing exclusive jurisdiction over a case based on the inconvenient forum provision in the UCCJEA as codified in Georgia. OCGA 19-9-67. The Court of Appeals found the decision was an abuse of discretion because the trial court relied on four factors but did not specifically consider the other four factors in its decision.