Posts Tagged ‘subject matter jurisdiction’

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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