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When Spouses Live In Different Sates, Winding Up a Marriage Can Be Complicated

Cynthia M. Fox

Conflicting laws in different states can complicate a divorce. Take for example a case where the husband separated from his wife, leaving her in Oklahoma, to relocate himself and his kids to Jefferson County, Missouri. He then filed for divorce here, while his wife filed in Oklahoma.

The dad wanted a Missouri court to decide the custody issues regarding his two children, while his wife wanted them resolved in Oklahoma. Dad's effort failed because his children had not lived long enough in Missouri and Missouri declined to assert jurisdiction.

However, although rare, there can be circumstances where a divorce action, and issues related to a divorce, can be initiated and heard in two different states.

Let's consider the hypothetical case of Julia, a highly-paid consultant, and her ne'er-do-well husband, George. Julia has taken an extended assignment with a big deal client in St. Louis that takes her away from her husband and home back in, let's say, Tennessee. Their marriage had not been going well when she left and, after six months in St. Louis, she wants a divorce.

Julia doesn't want to wait until she returns to Tennessee so she decides to file here. But, can she do that even though she had been married in Tennessee and her husband remains back in good old Knoxville? Most certainly she can. Under Missouri law, after six months living here, she is a resident and has the right to have her marriage dissolved in Missouri. She simply files and makes sure that George is properly served. Whether he appears or not, her marriage will be terminated by a Missouri court.

By not waiting and acting in Missouri, Julia has stopped the accumulation of marital property, which would be subject to division with her husband. Julia earns five times what George does and, theoretically, is throwing a quarter into the pot for every nickel that George does.

By the way, George does not have to file for divorce in Tennessee because, like it or not, Missouri has already ended his marriage.

The Missouri action only deals with the marriage, but not any of the related issues such as property division, child custody, spousal maintenance or child support. Different rules, and different jurisdictions, will apply for each of these.

Julia and George accumulated a lot of stuff during their marriage, most of it on Julia"s dime and most of it still in Tennessee. The property"s location is important because the Missouri court can only divide marital property located in Missouri. If Julia wants her fair apportionment, she is going to have to return to Tennessee to have the property division tried there. But, she better hurry, because George has already filed his motion in Knoxville.

For the things Julia brought with her, like their new Lexus, Julia has asked that a Missouri court award it to her, so the onus is on George to hustle up to St. Louis for his objections to be heard.

As for spousal and child support, these issues will be heard in the jurisdiction of the proposed payee. As might be expected, George is seeking maintenance from Julia and has filed his lawsuit in Missouri. Regarding child support, George and Julia are both seeking it from the other. As a result, each has filed in the state of their spouse-Julia in Tennessee and George in Missouri.

For over 25 years Cynthia M. Fox has focused her practice in family law, with a particular emphasis on matters relating to the dissolution of marriage: divorce representation and mediation, child custody and child support. She is a native St. Louis and a graduate of the Washington University School of Law, Class of '73.

Cynthia M. Fox can be contacted by phone at (314)727-4880 or
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