Why Does Jurisdiction Matter in Divorce Cases?

Why Does Jurisdiction Matter in Divorce Cases?

By: M. Scott Gordon

When a married couple resides in the Chicago area and decides to file for divorce, the matter of jurisdiction does not come up too frequently. However, jurisdiction for a divorce case can have significant effects on a case if one spouse lives in the Chicago area and the other lives out of state. In case you are not familiar with the term jurisdiction, in the most basic terms it refers to a court’s power to hear a case, as the Cornell Legal Information Institute (LII) explains. Since a divorce case will not be heard in two different states (if the divorcing spouses live in different states), it is important to understand which court will have jurisdiction. Depending upon where the divorce filing occurs and which court hears a divorce case, issues like property division can be impacted in drastic ways.

Divorce Jurisdiction and Venue in the News

The matter of jurisdiction in divorce cases can be a very complicated one, and it often requires a court to determine where the couple has the most “contacts” such that the case should be heard in that area. The issue of jurisdiction has arisen recently with regard to a prominent divorce case in Cook County, according to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune. As that article explains, former Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson is currently “seeking a divorce from ex-U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.,” but there is a significant debate concerning jurisdiction.

Sandi Jackson, as the article clarifies, filed for divorce in Washington, D.C., but Jesse Jackson Jr. filed for divorce in Cook County, Illinois. Two separate proceedings currently are set in Washington and Cook County. In the divorce, the court will have to contend with matters related to the couple’s 25-year marriage, including child custody issues (they have two teenagers from the marriage), child support, and spousal maintenance. What factors does a court consider when deciding jurisdiction in a divorce matter? The article suggests that the judges in both filings will be considering “where the couple lives, where their assets are, and where their children reside.”

In an effort to have the case heard in Washington, Sandi Jackson has argued that Jesse Jackson’s filing in Cook County should be dismissed because he does not live in a house that he currently pays a mortgage on in Illinois. However, Jesse Jackson contends that the divorce should be heard in Cook County because he “has been registered to vote in Illinois all his life and has an Illinois driver’s license.”

Reasons that Jurisdiction Could Make a Difference in Your Divorce Case

Jurisdiction can matter for a number of different reasons, including but not limited to:

  • Methodology for the division of marital property;
  • Methodology for the valuation of marital property;
  • Methodology for awarding spousal maintenance; and
  • Methodology for analyzing and enforcing premarital agreements.

For instance, Illinois is an equitable distribution state when it comes to property division in divorces. This means that the court will divide marital property in a way that is “equitable” — or fair — to both of the parties involved. Other states, however, are known as community property states, where spouses are assumed to equally own everything from the marriage. As such, spouses in community property states typically have both assets and debts of the marriage divided equally, even if that may not be the equitable solution.

Contact a Divorce Lawyer in Chicago

If you have questions about how jurisdiction issues could impact your divorce, an experienced divorce lawyer in the Chicago area can speak with you today. Contact Gordon & Perlut, LLC to learn more.