When a marriage breaks down, it is common for one spouse (or both) to relocate to a new area so they can start over. Whether it is to evade an abuser, avoid spoiled memories in places you once frequented with your spouse, or just the satisfaction of opening a new chapter of your life in a new place, relocating post-separation can have a rejuvenating effect. Often, these moves can involve relocating to an entirely different state or geographic region of the United States.
Post-relocation, however, you still need to dissolve the marriage so your former spouse’s decisions do not affect you. This article will discuss the personal jurisdictional requirements for filing for divorce in Texas and Arkansas. Please note that this discussion is limited to just personal jurisdictional requirements and not subject-matter jurisdiction or venue. Where you should file for divorce requires an assessment of several different elements and personal jurisdiction is just one of them.
Personal Jurisdiction Generally
In order for a court to adjudicate any dispute, it must have, among other things, jurisdiction over the people or entities involved in the dispute, case, or controversy. Personal jurisdictional requirements are the reason why you cannot be hailed into court in Maine when you have never been there, done business related to Maine, or even met a person from the state. It is a due process requirement that is observed in every state in our nation. A court lacking personal jurisdiction over a person or entity simply does not have the power to make decisions affecting their lives.
In the context of divorce, every state has a statute that provides a means for determining whether a court has personal jurisdiction to grant a divorce. Divorce is a unique type of legal controversy. Most state legislatures do not want their states to become “divorce mills” where people move for quick divorce. Such a status burdens their court systems, encourages the breakdown of familial relationships, and potentially results in conflicting judgments when litigants in another state also seek a divorce. For these reasons, almost every state has some form of residency requirement.
A Note on Residency vs. Domicile
In statutes that set personal jurisdictional requirements for divorce, there can be — such as in Texas — a distinction between residency and domicile. A person resides in a state when they actually live there. If you fly to Orlando for a week-long vacation, you reside within the State of Florida for that limited period.
In contract, a person is domiciled in a state where they intend to live indefinitely. It can be thought of as your “true home.” Every person has one — and only one — domicile.
Usually, a person both resides and is domiciled in the same state. There are situations, however, where that is not the case. Here are some examples.
Example 1: Student moves from their childhood home in State A to attend college in State B. They live in a dorm and attend school full-time but they intend to return to State A after graduation to work and live. Student resides in State B but is domiciled in State A.
Example 2: Same facts as Example 1 but Student plans on settling down in State B postgraduation. Student both resides and is domiciled in State B.
Example 3: Employee accepts a three-year assignment in State Y and moves there from State Z. Employee isn’t sure whether she will stay after the job ends, but she continues to vote in State Z elections, uses a State Z driver’s license, and makes sure to renew her car registration in State Z. Whether she is domiciled in State Y or Z will likely require a court to decide but she is only domiciled in one of the two states.
Personal Jurisdictional Requirements
Texas has both a residency and domiciliary requirement. The Texas Family Code provides as follows:
A suit for divorce may not be maintained in this state unless at the time the suit is filed either the petitioner or the respondent has been:
- a domiciliary of this state for the preceding six-month period; and
- a resident of the county in which the suit is filed for the preceding 90-day period. i
As you can see, a person wishing to file for divorce must both be domiciled within the state for at least six months AND must have resided within at least one state for at least 90 days. Both requirements must be met in order to file your initial petition.
Contrasted with Texas, Arkansas’s requirements can be considered slightly more liberal. The Arkansas Code Annotated provides as follows:
(a) To obtain a divorce, the plaintiff must prove, but need not allege, in addition to a legal cause of divorce:
(1)(A) A residence in the state by either the plaintiff or defendant for sixty(60) days next before the commencement of the action and a residence in the state for three (3) full months before the final judgment granting the decree of divorce. ii
Assuming the grounds for divorce have been met, a person can file for divorce in Arkansas after sixty days of residing there. Because of the mandatory thirty-day cooling off period provided for elsewhere in the statute, ninety days is the minimum requirement for obtaining a divorce decree in Arkansas.
Final Note on Spousal Residency
You might have noticed that both statutes refer to either spouse living within the state. Because the issue is jurisdiction regarding the power to dissolve a marital status, most courts only need personal jurisdiction over one spouse in order to issue a divorce order dissolving the marriage.
Please note, however, that this only applies to a person’s status as married. Any collateral issues — such as rights to children or property distribution — can only be adjudicated if the court has jurisdiction over both spouses. These topics are beyond the scope of this article. Have you (or your future ex-spouse) recently moved to Texas or Arkansas and would like to discuss divorce? Please feel free to reach out to our office at (903) 221-9180 or
email our Client Services Director at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about your rights in a consultation.
i Texas Family Code § 6.301.
ii Ark. Code. Ann. § 9-12-307