For the average person, true-crime fan, or police drama TV-watcher, when we hear the word
jurisdiction, we think of law enforcement and territory. For many, our knowledge of jurisdiction ends
with law enforcement. In reality, jurisdiction applies to the entire legal matter at hand – not just who is allowed to investigate a crime or make an arrest. Whitehurst, Blackburn & Warren Attorney Drew
Tuggle defines the term, breaks down the different types, and illustrates how jurisdiction can impact the physical location and type of court that can hear your case.
Two Types of Jurisdiction
There are two types of jurisdiction: subject matter and personal.
Subject matter jurisdiction is the authority of a court to hear cases of a particular type, or cases relating to a specific subject matter.
“For instance, in Georgia, only the Superior Court has subject matter jurisdiction over a divorce action,” Tuggle explains. “For this reason, you can’t file for divorce in magistrate or state court of Georgia.”
Personal jurisdiction refers to a court’s power or authority to make decisions that affect a person. For a judge to be able to make decisions in a court case, the court must have personal jurisdiction over all parties to that case.
Application of Personal Jurisdiction
The sticky part in personal jurisdiction are the words “all parties.” Generally, when you file a court case, let’s say a divorce, the act of filing gives that court personal jurisdiction over you. However, the same is not true for your spouse if they are not a resident of the state you filed in.
“Georgia does have what is referred to as the Georgia Long Arm Statute,” Tuggle explains, “which allows Georgia courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident in the same manner as if he or she were a resident of Georgia, if the nonresident defendant meets certain requirements.”
A nonresident defendant can waive personal jurisdiction by voluntarily consenting to the jurisdiction of the Georgia Court. Tuggle illustrates, “If the nonresident defendant – the spouse in the divorce example – files an answer and/or counterclaim in the Georgia action, they will have been deemed to have impliedly waived the issue of personal jurisdiction.”
Impacts of Personal Jurisdiction
It is important to know that residency alone does not dictate personal jurisdiction, even when the Long Arm Statute can be applied. Keeping with the divorce theme, the following details are based off a recorded case: A couple was married in Georgia and lived here for nearly two years. Then the couple moved to another state for almost 15 years. After that, one party moved back to Georgia and decided to file for divorce here. Even though the couple resided in Georgia once – making the Long Arm Statute proper – the courts found lack of personal jurisdiction in this case because of the reasonableness of asserting jurisdiction.
Tuggle describes the court ruling: “The court asks, ‘Is bringing one party back to Georgia fair based off of due process and minimum contacts?’ There is no reason for a Georgia court to hear the case because we are going to be calling the other state to get witnesses and find out other details that led to the divorce.”
There are many reasons for filing for divorce in a different state than the one you were living in while you were married. The most common reasons are relocating to where you are originally from, moving to where your family is, and filing where it is most convenient for you.
Another reason is called forum shopping. Tuggle says, “Law, especially divorce law, is very state-specific. The marital assets will be divided differently in Florida than Georgia. There may be a strategic advantage to filing in a different state, if you can.”
However, personal jurisdiction is specifically geared toward stopping forum shopping.
“The court’s goal is to deter people from looking for the best set of rules for them to win. Instead, they seek to be just,” says Tuggle.
Personal jurisdiction is complex. You deserve a team of legal experts who understand the nuances of jurisdiction and will represent you and your interests fairly. For more information about personal
jurisdiction and how it applies to your legal matter, call us today to schedule a free no-obligation
consultation at 229-226-2161.