Jurisdiction in Irvine Family Law Cases

Family Court Jurisdiction in Divorce and Other Family Law Matters

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The subject of “jurisdiction” can be extremely difficult to explain, especially in the context of family court cases in Irvine and elsewhere in Orange County, California.  The term “jurisdiction” generally refers to the court’s power to hear a certain issue and make a decision or a court’s power to make an order against a person.  When lawyers talk about jurisdiction, they usually must distinguish between “personal jurisdiction” and “subject matter jurisdiction”.  The page is intended to provide a broad overview of jurisdiction and how this important concept applies in family court.

Difference Between Personal Jurisdiction and Subject Matter Jurisdiction in Family Court

Personal jurisdiction means the court’s power over a particular person.  For example, if someone were to sue John Doe, a resident of Irvine, California in South Carolina, a place that John Doe has never been and has no affiliation with whatsoever, it is not likely that the court in South Carolina has power over John Doe and therefore cannot enter any judgments or orders against him.  This is an important concept in family court proceedings because spouses seeking divorce may have difficulty obtaining property division judgments or receiving child support (among other things) if the court does not have personal jurisdiction over the respondent (the person responding to the case).  Subject matter jurisdiction refers to the court’s power to enter an order or judgment pertaining to a certain issue.  For example, the court does not have the power to make child custody orders when the child at-issue does not live in California and has no connection with California, other than one parent may live here.  The Court does have power to enter a judgment of divorce regardless of where the respondent lives so long as the petitioner meets the residency requirements for divorce.

How does the Family Court in Orange County Obtain Personal Jurisdiction?

There are a number of ways that the Court will have personal jurisdiction (also called “IPJ” for the Latin in personam jurisdiction) in family law cases in Irvine, Newport Beach, Laguna and elsewhere in Orange County.  Here are some examples of how the court can obtain this power of a person:

  • In a divorce case, where the respondent lives in California.
  • Where the respondent has significant ties to California (this is defined by the “minimum contacts” rule which is a complicated legal issue, but generally looks at whether the person does business in California, owns any assets here, has a driver’s license or files taxes in California, etc.)
  • In a paternity case, the court will have personal jurisdiction over both parents when the child was conceived in California.
  • In a domestic violence case, when the act of violence, harassment or other DV occurs within California.
  • When the respondent is served within the State of California.
  • In child custody cases, it will not matter whether the court has personal jurisdiction over the parents when the court has “subject matter jurisdiction” to make custody orders, the parents will be bound by the orders.
  • In child support cases, the court can order and enforce the support order on the obligor parent so long as there is a basis to make the order under the particular case at hand.  For example, if the court has personal jurisdiction over a respondent in a domestic violence case, the court can also order child support against the respondent.  In a paternity matter, if the child was conceived in California, if the respondent lives in California, or if the respondent is served in California, the court can make a child support order against the respondent.

What Examples of Subject Matter Jurisdiction are Applicable in Family Court Cases in Irvine?

Subject matter jurisdiction means the court’s power to make orders with respect to a certain “issue” that has been requesting by a petitioning party.  Most often, if the Orange County Family Court has subject matter jurisdiction then it will not need personal jurisdiction over the respondent to make orders and judgments.  Some examples of the court’s authority over particular issues include:

  • In divorce cases, when a spouse meets the residency requirements (meaning they have lived in the State of California for at least 6 months and the county where they are filing for at least 3 months), the court has the authority to grant the dissolution of marriage.
  • In child custody cases, if California is the “home state” of the child (which generally means that the child has lived in California for at least 6 months, or was born here, and no other state has jurisdiction) then the court can enter child custody and/or visitation orders.
  • In legal separation cases, the court has the authority to grant a judgment of legal separation (and only that issue) even if the respondent is not subject to personal jurisdiction (note: there is no residency requirement to file for legal separation either).

For more information about jurisdiction and how it may apply to your family law or divorce case in Irvine, Huntington Beach or elsewhere in Southern California, contact our office today for a free consultation.