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Posts Tagged ‘Divorce’

The Washington State Court of Appeals, Div. III, Robinson v. Robinson, no. 27143-9, held recently that a party who is not living in Washington at the time it files a petition for dissolution, and does not have an immediate intent to live in Washington, cannot get divorced in Washington because the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.

Subject matter jurisdiction refers to the court’s authority to hear a particular case. To have subject matter jurisdiction, the petitioner in a case must be domiciled in Washington. To be domiciled in Washington, the petitioner must 1) actually live in the state, and 2) intend to make their residence their home.

Here, the parties, Douglas and Juraluck Robinson  married in 1998 in Everett, Washington and lived here until 2004, when they sold their house, moved to Connecticut, purchased a home, and enrolled their son in school. The following January, Mr. Robinson filed for divorce in Lincoln Country, listing an address in Everett, WA, and listing his wife’s address in CT on the petition. He then obtained a default divorce.

Ms. Robinson filed for divorce in CT in June 2005, and testified that she was unaware of the proceedings in Washington, claiming that her signature had been forged. In July, Mr. Robinson filed a motion to dismiss in CT based on the decree in WA. In November, Ms. Robinson returned to Washington, and filed a motion to vacate the decree as well as a motion to change venue.

In response to Ms. Robinson’s motions, Mr. Robinson filed a declaration that stated: “I do not feel that the venue should be changed…as neither one of us were a resident of Washington state at the time the petition was filed,” and “[a]t no time during the proceedings were we residents of Washington State.” In her declaration, Ms. Robinson also stated that, “we were living in Connecticut…[but] it [has] always been my intention to return to Washington”.

The trial court considered the issue of subject matter jurisdiction, and found that Ms. Robinson had “failed to show sufficient proof that jurisdiction was improper.” On appeal, the court stated that it was Ms. Robinson’s burden to show that the family had changed residence to Connecticut, and that through the facts and testimony it was clear that both Mr. and Ms. Robinson had changed their residence to Connecticut and had not reestablished it in Washington.

The most important aspect of this holding is the distinction between a present and future intent to domicile in Washington in order to establish subject matter jurisdiction. The court found that even though Ms. Robinson was present in Washington during the time of the initial proceedings, and that she did intend to reside in Washington again sometime in the future, her intent was not a present intent. Therefore, neither she nor Mr. Robinson was a resident of Washington at any time during the dissolution proceedings, and thus the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

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The Division II court of appeals held recently that someone accused of domestic violence in a domestic violence protection order proceeding does not have a right to a trial by jury.

In 2008, the wife/mother, Tiffany Blackmon, filed a petition for a domestic violence protection order on her behalf and on behalf of her seven-year-old son against her estranged husband, Brian Blackmon.

The trial court issued a temporary order of protection and set a date for the return hearing.  The parties then continued the date of the return hearing a number of times and Mr. Blackmon filed a jury demand.

The trial court denied Mr. Blackmon’s jury demand.  The appellate court affirmed.  To reach its holding, the court first established that the right to trial by jury enshrined in the state Constitution was limited to those causes of action for which a jury was available when the Constitution was adopted in 1889.

At that time, a jury was available to hear a cause of action sounding in law, but not in equity.  The distinction between law and equity focuses on the relief sought.  Injunctive relief is equitable.  An injunction is a court order prohibiting a party from engaging in a particular behavior.  Most other kinds of relief sound in law.

The court of appeals then reasoned that a domestic violence protection order – which prohibits a party from having contact with the other party – is injunctive in nature and therefore sounds in equity, and therefore the prohibited party does not have a right to a trial by jury.

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