Sunday, March 18, 2007

When does Indiana have jurisdiction over a divorce case

I think I only came close to a jurisdictional issue once in the nineteen years of practicing family law. I suppose that says something about migration patterns into the areas where I practice most. Still, the issue interests me. For those of you also interested there is Kondamuri v. Kondamuri, 799 N.E.2d 1153 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003):

In this case, Husband contends that the failure to satisfy the residency requirements found at Indiana Code § 31-15-2-6 implicates the trial court’s jurisdiction over the particular case. Wife counters that the failure to meet the residency requirements calls into question the trial court’s subject matter jurisdiction. We agree with Husband.
There are three types of jurisdiction: (1) jurisdiction of the subject matter, (2) jurisdiction of the person, See footnote and (3) jurisdiction over the particular case. In re Guardianship of K.T., 743 N.E.2d 348, 351 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001). Subject matter jurisdiction refers to the power of courts to hear and decide a class of cases. Id. The issue of subject matter jurisdiction is resolved by determining whether the claim involved falls within the general scope of authority conferred on the court by the Indiana Constitution or by statute. Adler v. Adler, 713 N.E.2d 348, 352 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999). When courts lack subject matter jurisdiction, their actions are void ab initio and may be attacked at any time. In re K.T., 743 N.E.2d at 351. On the other hand, jurisdiction over the particular case refers to a trial court’s right, authority, and power to hear and decide a specific case within the class of cases over which a court has subject matter jurisdiction. Id. A judgment rendered by a court that lacks jurisdiction over the particular case is voidable and requires a timely objection or the lack of jurisdiction over the particular case is waived. Id.

In light of the supreme court’s decision in Williams, we conclude that this statute determines the particular cases over which a trial court may exercise its subject matter jurisdiction. In particular, at least one party must be an Indiana resident for six months and a resident of the county where the action is filed for three months. Where these requirements are not met and there is an objection, the trial court may not exercise its jurisdiction over that particular case. Therefore, we find that the failure to meet the residency requirements for filing a dissolution action implicates a trial court’s jurisdiction over a particular case rather than its subject matter jurisdiction.

Kondamuri also has a pretty good description of how to deal with an objection to jurisdiction. The Kondamuris came back to the Court of Appeals (that opinion is here and in PDF format) and I am reviewing now for another matter but which I am sure result in a post of its now.

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