Deciding Where a Divorce and Child Custody Case Should (or Can) Be Litigated

A woman who took her child and fled an allegedly abusive husband was unable to successfully move her divorce and child custody case to a court in her new home in South Florida. The 1st District Court of Appeal, while openly expressing sympathy for the woman’s difficult position, threw out an order transferring the case from Tallahassee to Miami-Dade County because, when the original divorce petition was filed, the couple had only lived in Tallahassee, making that location the only permissible place where the case could be heard.

The case regarded the difficult and allegedly violent breakup of the marriage of KM (husband) and TM (wife). The husband filed for divorce in September 2013 in Tallahassee, where the couple was living with their child. Shortly thereafter, a dispute reportedly erupted between the couple, and the husband allegedly punched the wife several times. The wife left Tallahassee and went to stay with her mother in Miami. The wife obtained a domestic violence injunction against the husband from a court in Miami-Dade County.

The wife also asked to transfer the divorce case from Tallahassee to Miami. She claimed that, as a result of her husband’s domestic violence, she had been forced to leave Tallahassee. Once in Miami, she had found a job there and enrolled the child in school there. She argued that being forced to litigate the case seven hours away in Leon County would create an extreme hardship for her.

The court in Miami granted the wife’s request, and the husband successfully appealed. The appeals court expressed its sympathy with the substance of the wife’s arguments, since she had put forward a compelling case that going forward in Tallahassee would be extremely burdensome, given that the child’s teachers, counselors, and therapists were located in Miami, that she was concerned for her safety and the child’s welfare, and that pursuing the case in Tallahassee would be very expensive.

Unfortunately for her, none of those facts mattered in resolving the issue of where the case could be heard. Under Florida law, a court may only relocate a case to a legally eligible location. In order to be an eligible location for a transfer of venue under Florida law, the new court must be in a place where the parties could have brought the original action when it was filed. Back in September 2013 when the husband filed his initial divorce petition, neither he nor his wife had ever lived in Miami-Dade County. As a result, he could not have filed his divorce action there, and Miami-Dade was not an eligible venue for hearing the couple’s divorce and child custody issues, even though the wife and child had subsequently relocated there.

The court did add an instructive piece of information at the end of its opinion. Although Tallahassee was the only appropriate place to litigate the divorce, child custody, and timesharing issues, if in the future, either of the parents sought to modify timesharing, a different statute, Section 61.13, would govern venue transfer requests. That statute allows modification cases to be heard in any county where a parent or child resides, meaning that a court in Miami-Dade County could heard that case, if it should arise.

Family law cases can often be complicated because the rules of law and court procedure do not always mesh with the needs of a family. If you are placed in a situation where you must litigate your family law matter from long distance, you need to put the advantage of a knowledgeable and experienced local attorney on your side. For the finest legal representation for your case, reach out to the South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A.. Our attorneys have the skills, thoughtfulness, and determination to help you through the family court process.

Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Dealing with Paternity Issues When a Wife’s Extramarital Affair Produces a Child, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 13, 2014
Default Judgments and Divorce Proceedings in Florida, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 28, 2013