Under Arizona law, there are two aspects to deciding where to file a new family law case: (1) venue and (2) jurisdiction.
I. Venue in Arizona Family Law Cases
The issue of venue is relatively straight forward. “Venue” refers to the Arizona county in which the family law case may be filed. Arizona law states: “No person shall be sued out of the county in which such person resides . . . .” ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 12-401. However, “[a]ctions for dissolution of marriage or legal separation shall be brought in the county in which a petitioner is residing at the time the action is filed.” Id. at § 12-401(13). This means that when the parties are not married, such when two individuals share a minor child in common, and a new case needs to be filed to establish paternity, child support, parenting time, and / or legal decision-making, the case must be brought in the county where the non-filing party lives. When the parties are married, the first file for a divorce or legal separation, may file in the same county where that party resides.
II. Subject-Matter Jurisdiction in Arizona Family Law Cases
The issue of jurisdiction can be a bit more complicated, depending on whether there are minor children involved in the case. “Jurisdiction” refers to the power of the Superior Court of Arizona to make decisions in a case. Generally, the Arizona Superior Court has jurisdiction over a divorce / legal separation case if “one of the parties, at the time the action was commenced, was domiciled in this state, or was stationed in this state while a member of the armed services, and that in either case the domicile or military presence has been maintained for ninety days prior . . . .” See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. 25-312(1).
III. Jurisdiction and Minor Children Living in Multiple States
When the case involves any minor children who have spent time other states, the issue of jurisdiction can become much more complex. Generally, Arizona law provides that the Superior Court of Arizona has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination if Arizona “is the home state of the child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding, or was the home state of the child within six months before the commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from this state but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in this state.” ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 12-1031(A). “‘Home state’ means: (a) The state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding, including any period during which that person is temporarily absent from that state. (b) If a child is less than six months of age, the state in which the child lived from birth with a parent or person acting as a parent, including any period during which that person is temporarily absent from that state.” ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-1002(7).
There are some other instances in which the Superior Court of Arizona may have jurisdiction for an initial child custody proceeding, depending on the specific facts of a case, such as when a court of the home state has declined jurisdiction. See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-1031(B). Sometimes, a judge of the Superior Court of Arizona may have a conference with a judge from the court of another state, in what may be called a “UCCJEA conference,” in order to make a decision about which court will hear the matter. See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-1010.
Huffman-Shayeb Law, PLLC has experience handling cases involving UCCJEA conferences and determinations, as well as experience in helping clients determine where their family law cases should be filed. If you are considering filing a family law case in the State of Arizona or even just continuing 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.