Bright-eyed law students around the country take a course called Civil Procedure during their first year of law school. By the time they graduate three years later, the will certainly remember the buzz-words “subject matter jurisdiction”, “personal jurisdiction” and “forum non conveniens”, but most all will have forgotten the concepts behind these foundational principles. Even as lawyers, since jurisdiction is not an issue that often arises (as most of matrimonial litigants do not contest that New Jersey is the appropriate forum in which to litigate their divorce), we may forget the specifics of these doctrines as well.  In the recent published (precedential) Appellate Division decision of Tatham v. Tatham, the Court gave us a primer in New Jersey civil procedure. 
 
The parties in Tatham are Australian citizens. Because of the Husband’s employment in international financial investment, the parties have lived all over the world during their marriage. The parties moved to New Jersey in 2007 and in the fall of 2008, the Husband moved to Singapore, where he has since resided. Wife, and the parties’ two teenaged daughters, have remained in New Jersey since 2007. Since Husband moved to Singapore in 2008, Husband regularly returned to New Jersey to visit his children until June of 2011, when the parties decided to get divorced. 
 
In the summer of 2011, Wife commenced a divorce action. Husband moved to dismiss Wife’s Complaint asserting was not the proper jurisdiction to litigate the matter. The trial court agreed and dismissed Wife’s action based on the 1) lack of subject matter jurisdiction over Husband; 2) the fact that it could not “fairly” exert personal jurisdiction over Husband; 3) that New Jersey was not a convenient forum; and 4) that service of the Complaint for Divorce was not properly effected. 


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A basic question that people often ask at the outset of a divorce is, does the Court have the ability, or jurisdiction, to hear their case, especially when one spouse lives in a state other than New Jersey?

New Jersey statutory law seems clear, but the outcomes of a jurisdictional question over whether the Court can hear the cause of action for divorce are often based on highly fact-specific scenarios. N.J.S.A. 2A:34-10 states, in relevant part to this blog entry, that a New Jersey Court may have jurisdiction over a divorce when either party to the marriage has “become, and for at least 1 year next preceding the commencement of the action has continued to be, a bona fide resident” of New Jersey. As noted by the Appellate Division in the recently decided Boghosian v. Boghosian, an intricate and interesting unreported (not precedential) opinion decided on August 17, 2009, New Jersey Courts interpreting the language of this law have concluded that “bona fide resident” is the equivalent of “domiciliary” and that either party must actually be domiciled in this State. 


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