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What is 'personal jurisdiction' in a Georgia divorce?


About a month ago, this blog discussed how the concept of legal service works, and what might happen if the whereabouts of a spouse are unknown when one wishes to terminate the marriage. There is another concept that is somewhat related to the idea of service in legal proceedings and that is the concept of "jurisdiction." This term may be more familiar to most Georgia residents in a law enforcement context, such as the fact that Atlanta police may not have jurisdiction to arrest someone in, say, New York. The concept, as far as courts go, is similar, but works a bit differently in practice.


First there are two basic types of jurisdiction: subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction. Subject matter jurisdiction just means that the court has to power to hear a certain type of case. For our purposes, Georgia family courts are given the power to decide divorce cases. So, what, then is personal jurisdiction?

Personal jurisdiction comes from the idea that it's unfair for a court in a place that a person has no connection to decide important issues that affect that person. So, to be able to have the power to decide certain issues, a Georgia court must be able to exercise personal jurisdiction over both the parties. While statute makes it clear that one can file for divorce in Georgia after having been a resident for six months, if the other party has, for example, never lived in Georgia and has no other connection to the state, the court may not have the jurisdiction to decide issues such as alimony or property division of property that is located in a different state.

It is important to understand that this is not necessarily a black-and-white issue. What constitutes sufficient connections to the state to give a court personal jurisdiction over someone is complicated. People who wish to file a divorce when the other party does not live in Georgia may wish to consider consulting a family law attorney.

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