Solving Complex Family Law Issues with Creative Strategies

Divorce When Your Spouse Lives in a Different State

After a marital breakup, it’s common for one spouse to move away to a different state. Whether they’re looking for a fresh start, putting miles between themselves and their spouse, or moving back to a home state for moral support, a divorce is often the catalyst for a big move. How does a divorce proceed when one spouse lives in a different state, and which state has jurisdiction to grant the divorce?

Getting a divorce when spouses live in different states requires diligent attention to detail to ensure a smooth process.

Understanding Residency Requirements for Divorce

All states have specific requirements for residency before spouses may file for divorce. A court must establish that it has jurisdiction over the spouse’s divorce case. For instance, California requires at least one spouse to have resided in the state for six months or more before the divorce filing. Because only one spouse needs to meet this requirement, if the spouse who files for divorce (the petitioner) lives in California they may file for a California divorce in a county where they’ve resided for at least three months. If your spouse has already filed for divorce in another state where they met the residency requirement in that state, you become the respondent in the case and must respond to the divorce petition under the other state’s guidelines.

What Are the Options for Divorcing If My Spouse Lives in a Different State?

When spouses live in different states and each meets the residency requirement for divorce in their states, it can become a race to see which spouse files for divorce first. Filing for divorce in the state where you live gives you the advantage of being near the court of jurisdiction for divorce proceedings.

In some cases, divorcing spouses take advantage of living in different states to choose the type of divorce they want. If they are on speaking terms and able to communicate and compromise effectively, and both meet residency requirements in different states, they could review each state’s divorce laws and choose the state with the laws that benefit them the most. For example, if they have significant marital assets they could determine if it would benefit them to divorce in a state like California which requires equal division of marital assets as close to 50/50 as possible, or a state like Arizona which doesn’t require 50/50 division but “fair and equitable division” with more room for bargaining and negotiating a settlement agreement that leaves both spouses satisfied.

What If My Spouse Has a Home in My State But Temporarily Rents a Home in Another?

Most states specify that spouses must prove their residency in a state where they file for divorce. This includes showing proof of their “domicile,” or place where they actually live rather than just the address of a property they own or rent in the state. Many couples have a home in one state and a vacation property or rental property in another. To file for divorce in a state, you must prove that you actually reside there for the majority of the year. The court may require evidence of residency or domicile within the state such as a driver’s license, voter registration, power bill, and other evidence of state residence before they allow the spouse to file for divorce in the state.