Preparing for a divorce can be one of the most useful yet tedious bits of preparation you do in your entire life. Nobody would argue that preparing for your divorce isn't the only smart thing for you to do. However, very few people want to think more about divorce, and they have to. I believe it is human nature to want to avoid unpleasant subjects and, instead, focus on more appealing issues and carry less baggage with them. I don't think there is any subject with more luggage than that of a divorce.
With That being said, different people going through divorce have to think about the case differently. For example, suppose you are a business owner who was going through a divorce. In that case, you need to focus on issues related to your business and how the assets and debts associated with your company may impact your divorce. On the other hand, if you are a parent who has a simple financial life, then your focus of the divorce will almost entirely be on your children and how the rights, duty, and time associated with your children will be divided between you and your spouse.
In this case, we will discuss military divorces and what makes an army divorce unique from a civilian divorce. The bottom line is that some aspects of a military divorce can be highly different from a civilian divorce. There are no specific requirements for a civilian divorce versus an army divorce that make them different under Texas law. However, because if you're in the military, you may not be eligible for divorce in Texas and may need to file elsewhere, you must understand the implications of the importance of choosing the right state to file for your divorce.
Jurisdiction In divorce and what it means for your case
No matter in what state it is located, a family court needs to have jurisdiction over your divorce. You cannot simply pick a court or location that seems appealing to you and then go with that court without considering whether or not that court in that judge will have jurisdiction over your case. Before we go any further, I think we need to look at what jurisdiction is and how a Texas court can gain jurisdiction over your claim.
The simplest way that I can describe jurisdiction Is that a court gains jurisdiction over your case when The subject matter and parties to the divorce have a meaningful relationship to that court in the area where that court is located. Under the law, there are concepts known as subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction. Typically, one but preferably both of these types of jurisdiction is attached to your divorce for the case to be heard in that court. We do not need to get into the nitty-gritty of Texas Civil Procedure, but you need to know that the court you file your divorce in must have jurisdiction attached to your case.
For jurisdiction to be proper in a Texas family court, there must be some basic facts in play for your case. For one, you must have been a resident of the state of Texas or at least 180 days before the filing of your divorce. Essentially, you must have been a resident or happened domiciled in the form of Texas for approximately six months before filing for divorce. There are no general family law courts in Texas, and therefore you must file your divorce in a particular County or District Court.
The specific requirement as to which County you file in Is that you must have been a resident of that County for the preceding 90 days. If you have recently moved counties and if not established residency or domicile to this extent, then you are not eligible to file for divorce right now. You can attempt to do so, but if jurisdiction is challenged by your spouse in the County where you file, there is a high likelihood that you will not be able to proceed with your case. Be prepared to produce utility statements or other documentary proof of your being a resident of that County for the specific length of time needed if people leave; a challenge will be forthcoming.
Otherwise, these are the basic jurisdictional requirements to have your case file heard before a family court judge in Texas. There may be particular issues within your divorce that cause a court not to have jurisdiction over one aspect or another of your case. This may be particularly true if you ask a Harris County family law judge to issue orders regarding children Who reside in another County or another state. Additionally, a family court judge in Harris County may decline two divide real property or other assets located outside of the County, especially those located outside of Texas.
If you are a military family and believe that you may have some extraordinary circumstances that impact your divorce regarding property or your children and their relationship to jurisdiction in Texas, I would recommend that you contact an attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our experienced family law attorneys can provide you with information that can help you solve these issues and make decisions for yourself in the future.
Can a military family "pick" which state to get divorced in?
As I mentioned a moment ago, some courts cannot be she decisions regarding the particular subject matter in your divorce unless they have jurisdiction. Federal law mandates that for a family court to divide up a military retirement plan, the court must have jurisdiction. For this reason, you need to make especially sure that the court you are filing in has jurisdiction over your case. If you have friends or family who seemingly went down to the courthouse and got a divorce without having this be a significant issue, then you may be correct. Civilian divorces differ from military divorces in this way.
The state in which you choose to file for divorce must be one where you or your spouse is domiciled, where one of you is a resident, or be a state where you both agree to get divorced. Keep in mind that the state in which you get divorced will utilize its family laws in the context of your case. For example, suppose you are domiciled in Texas and choose to get divorced in Harris County. In that case, the family court your case is assigned to will utilize Texas family law when determining the outcome of your case. It does not matter if you got married in Louisiana or Wisconsin; the rules of Texas will apply to your divorce.
What is a domicile?
This is a reasonable question because it is not a term that we hear used very much in everyday language. If you or your spouse are members of the armed forces, then your domicile means where you consider being your permanent home. For many people who join the military, your domicile is the state you lived in when you entered for the first time. Keep in mind you can keep a domicile even if you are not living there currently. If you are in the Air Force and stationed in Colorado, but you consider your home in Sugar Land, your domicile is likely to be in Fort Bend County.
The way that family court judges would look at jurisdiction from this perspective is whether or not you pay taxes on a home located in Texas and if you have a solid inclination to return upon the end of your military service. Other types of evidence that could be used to indicate Texas is your domicile would be where your car is registered, where extended family lives, the location of your primary residence, and where you are registered to vote. So, if your intent is to get divorced in Fort Bend County, you need to produce evidence showing that your domicile is in that particular County.
Given that military spouses must sometimes reside separately due to circumstances associated with their service, you and your spouse may have different domiciles. A key point to note is that some states allow servicemembers to get divorced in the County or district courts of that state if you are only stationed for duty there and not necessarily domiciled there. However, if you choose to get a divorce in this type of court, you run the risk of other courts not acknowledging that divorce is valid.
To avoid putting yourself in your family in a situation where a divorce is not guaranteed to be determined as valid, I would recommend that you get your divorce in the state and County where you are domiciled. That way, you do not run the risk of having your divorce in all the time and money put into it declared invalid, or you have to start over again from scratch with the divorce process.
I will note that if you are the military spouse and not the spouse who serves in the military, you need to be especially aware that you need to be able to file in the County where you can have your spouse's military retirement benefits divided. It will be a complete pain for you to have to file for divorce essentially two times. The first would be to have all nonmilitary retirement issues decided and then file for divorce or at least a division of the marital estate associated with benefits in another court altogether.
What if your spouse is deployed overseas?
If you or your spouse are deployed in another country on behalf of the military, you can still file for divorce in the United States. You can refer back to the residency or domicile requirements that we discussed earlier when determining where you can file in the United States. It goes without saying that if you live in another country right now and need to file for divorce, you should look in the list for the support of an experienced family law attorney to help you do so.
Not only are you at a disadvantage because you are not physically in the United States right now, but you also are at a disadvantage because you likely do not know much about family law and have no time to devote to representing yourself in a case like this. Divorce is tough enough as it is, but getting a divorce when you are living in another country adds an entirely new challenge to an already challenging circumstance. Please do not assume that because you have heard from other people that they could get a divorce without an attorney, you will be able to. When it comes to you your family's future and your financial well-being hiring a family law attorney can be the best short-term investment that you ever make.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are an excellent way for you to learn more about Texas family law and about the services that we can provide to you and your family as clients of ours. I appreciate your interest in our blog post, and we hope you will join us again tomorrow.