In the United States, including the State of Arizona, the concept of personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state / nonresident party is governed by both federal and state law. See Meyers v. Hamilton Corp, 693 P.2d 904 (Ariz. 1984) (citing state and federal law in analyzing a question of personal jurisdiction). In the State of Arizona, due process in a family court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction is guaranteed by both United States Constitution and the Arizona State Constitution. See Ariz. R. Fam. L. Pro. 41(a)(2) (“An Arizona state court may exercise personal jurisdiction over parties, whether found within or outside Arizona, to the maximum extent permitted by the United States and Arizona Constitutions.”). In part, due process requires that Arizona courts have jurisdiction over the parties to the cases they are deciding. See id.
When a party brings a case in an Arizona court, they are making an appearance before court and impliedly consenting to the court’s jurisdiction over their person. A responding party, however, may not make a voluntary appearance or otherwise consent to jurisdiction, in which case, a court may have to find a legal basis extend its authority to the nonresident party. Typically, an Arizona court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident party based on the following scenarios / theories:
- Consent: In some cases, a nonresident party may consent to a court’s jurisdiction by voluntarily participating in the court’s legal proceedings in the state, even if they would not otherwise have no legal obligation to do so.
- Service of Process: When a nonresident party enters a state, service of process on that individual (while they are physically within the state) may be sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction on a court of that state – even the nonresident later departs. See Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U.S. 714 (1877).
- General Jurisdiction: Typically, a court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident party when that party has systematic and continuous contacts with the state in question, such that it would not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice to have that individual appear and respond to an action. See William v. Frankel & Co., Inc., 996 P.2d 1254, 1256-57 (Ariz. App. 2000). As the Arizona Court of Appeals noted, “‘[g]eneral jurisdiction subjects the defendant to suit on virtually any claim, “[e]ven when the cause of action does not arise out of or relate to the [defendant’s] activities in the forum State.”’” Id. at 1256 (citation omitted).
- Specific Jurisdiction: In some instances, Arizona courts can exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident party based on a theory of specific jurisdiction, which means that the court’s jurisdiction is based upon certain acts that are specifically directed toward the State of Arizona. See id. at 1257-58. The kinds of acts that give a court specific jurisdiction involve the nonresident party purposefully availed himself of the privilege of conducting activities within the state and, thereby, enjoying the benefits and protections of the state. See id. Unlike general jurisdiction, specific jurisdiction gives the court authority over the nonresident party for purposes of ruling on claims arising out of those acts that are directed toward the state. See id.
- Quasi In Rem Jurisdiction: An Arizona court has jurisdiction to decide the rights of parties with respect to property that is located within the State of Arizona, even if those parties are out-of-state. See Polacke v. Superior Court, 823 P.2d 84 (Ariz. App. 1992) (discussing quasi in rem jurisdiction).
The State of Arizona, like most states, has “long-arm” statutes that specify the circumstances under which an Arizona court may assert jurisdiction over a nonresident respondent / defendant. These statutes sometimes define the types of activities or connections that will support a court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction. For example, an Arizona court may exercise jurisdiction over a nonresident party to establish or enforce child support if the nonresident directed or caused the minor child to reside in the State of Arizona. See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-1221(A). Similarly, an Arizona court may exercise jurisdiction over a nonresident party for purposes of child support if the nonresident spouse previously provided for the prenatal expenses or support of the minor child, or if the nonresident spouse engaged in sexual intercourse in the State of Arizona that may have caused the conception of the minor child. See id.
It is important note that even if an Arizona court does not have personal jurisdiction over a nonresident spouse, the court may grant a divorce as long as one of the parties has resided in a county in the State of Arizona for at least ninety (90) days. See Nickerson v. Nickerson, 542 P.2d 1131 (Ariz. App. 1976) (affirming a trial court’s decision to grant a divorce without ordering child support payment by a nonresident spouse or ordering husband to indemnify wife against community debts); ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-312(1) (imposing a ninety (90) day residency requirement for the initiation of dissolution proceedings). However, while the court may grant a divorce with only once spouse residing in the State of Arizona, the court cannot decide any other issues that affect the rights of the absent spouse unless it subject of those issues has a sufficient connection to the State of Arizona. See Nickerson, 542 P.2d at 1131-32. For example, while an Arizona court may be able to enter a decree of dissolution of the marriage and divide any property that exists within the State of Arizona, the court may not be able to decide the issue of spousal support or divide property has no connection to the State of Arizona. See id. This is commonly referred to as a “divisible divorce.”
Understanding when and how an Arizona court may exercise jurisdiction over a party can often be a complicated and fact-specific question that calls for the help trained attorney. If you are in need of an Arizona attorney to help you with a family law case in the State of Arizona, contact Huffman-Shayeb Law, PLLC to schedule a consultation.
Disclaimer: This publication is for educational and informational purposes only, and represents Huffman-Shayeb Law, PLLC’s understanding of the present state of Arizona law. This publication does not constitute legal advice or counsel, and should not be construed as a comment on the merits of any particular case. It should be noted that the laws and requirements of the State of Arizona may change at any time and that this information may not be complete or correct.