J is for Jurisdiction. New Jersey Divorce Law

J is for Jurisdiction.

If a Court has jurisdiction of your case, then that Court has the legal authority to decide your matter or controversy. Jurisdiction is composed of two elements, (1) subject matter jurisdiction, which means that it is the kind of case that the Court addresses (e.g. in New Jersey the Family Part hears family law cases, not employment discrimination cases, etc.); and (2) personal jurisdiction, which means that the Court has the power to enter orders that relate to the litigants involved in the case (e.g. a court in Nebraska may not have personal jurisdiction over a defendant who has no connections with that state).

In Family Law matters, there are times when questions about jurisdiction can be a major issue in a case. For instance, in a custody matter, which Court has jurisdiction to address child custody if one party recently moved with the child to a different state? What if there was domestic violence in the relationship that caused a party to flee to another state with a child? In a different scenario, what happens in support cases when a paying party resides in a different state than the person receiving support? How can New Jersey enforce a support obligation after a paying party moves outside of the state?

In an effort to try to resolve jurisdictional conflicts in these areas, uniform laws were adopted by many states. Regarding child custody issues, New Jersey adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”), as N.J.S.A. 2A:34-53 to -95. Under this Act, an initial order can be entered by “the home state” of the child when the proceedings commence. Once a determination is made by a state that has “continuing exclusive jurisdiction” of a custody case, that state will continue to have continuing exclusive jurisdiction. However, if a parent moves out of the state that initially had continuing exclusive jurisdiction, that jurisdiction can be relinquished to another state under certain circumstances. Other sections of the UCCJEA address situations in which a state that otherwise would not have been able to claim continuing exclusive jurisdiction can assume temporary emergency jurisdiction. This is generally in cases where the Court determines a need to protect a child.

Regarding jurisdiction of support cases, New Jersey adopted the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (“UIFSA”), as N.J.S.A. 2A:4-30.129 to -139. UIFSA provides guidance as to whether jurisdiction is proper for a state to enter a support order, and it guides states as to how to coordinate efforts to enforce existing orders that were entered in other jurisdictions.

As with many areas of law, jurisdictional issues are complex and fact-sensitive. If you have a family law issue where jurisdiction is a concern, the attorneys at Ulrichsen Rosen & Freed LLC can help you to understand and properly address the issue.