Family Law Attorney Belleville, Illinois

Navigating Divorce for Couples in Different States

separated wedding rings on a divorce decrree

An experienced divorce attorney can help you through complex situations.

Divorce means living separate lives, and for a significant portion of divorcing couples, that includes living in separate states. Separations that cross state lines create special challenges in the legal process. This is one of many reasons why you need an experienced divorce attorney.

At Courtney Clark Law, P.C., we have extensive experience helping our clients navigate these complex scenarios. Our location on the Illinois side of the St. Louis metropolitan area means that we deal with divorce and family law cases that cross state lines all the time. Here's what you need to know.

Which state has jurisdiction over your divorce?

"Jurisdiction" is a legal term for the court's authority to rule on a legal matter, such as a divorce or separation. If you and your spouse have always lived in Illinois, then it's clear that Illinois has jurisdiction. However, if you have recently moved, jurisdiction becomes more complicated. In some scenarios, multiple states could have jurisdiction over your divorce, which means you might have the option of filing for divorce in different states. However, only a family law attorney can tell you for sure what your options might be.

How long do you have to live in Illinois to establish residency for divorce?

In Illinois, you need to live in the state for at least 90 days in order to establish residency for divorce purposes. Once you have lived here for 90 days, you can file for divorce, regardless of where your spouse lives. Note that other states' residency requirements may be different.

Which state has jurisdiction over child custody?

Just as residency affects your ability to file for divorce, your child's residency determines which state has the power to decide child custody. In general, if your child or children have been living in a state for at least six months, then that state has jurisdiction over custody. So, for instance, if your spouse moves out of state and takes the children with them, then after six months, the other state will have jurisdiction over their custody. (Keep this in mind before you allow your spouse to move out of state with the children.)

Why jurisdiction matters

Every state's divorce laws are different, so the jurisdiction where your divorce is filed can make a significant difference in the outcome. In particular, when it comes to division of property, Illinois is an "equitable distribution" state. Some other states use the "community property" rule. Which rule applies to your divorce can make a substantial difference in how your property is divided. There are numerous other distinctions between how states handle divorces, including rules of evidence and procedure, deadlines, court costs, child support formulas, and so on.

If your divorce is amicable and you and your spouse agree on most aspects, the differences in state law may not make a huge difference. But if your divorce is contentious—and even a seemingly amicable divorce can become contentious quickly—then jurisdiction may have significant implications. That's why it's always best to speak with a divorce attorney about your rights and options in a divorce that crosses state lines.

Practical considerations when your spouse lives out of state

In addition to the differences in the legal process, there are several practical concerns that might come up in a divorce across state lines:

  • Travel logistics and child custody. If you have children, the child custody arrangement may need to be modified to account for the logistics of interstate travel. If your former spouse is just over the border in Missouri, that may not be too difficult, but if they're moving to California, a more creative solution may be needed.
  • More complex division of marital property. If you and your spouse own property in multiple states, then division of that property is not just going to depend on its value, but also on who is in a position to effectively manage that property.
  • Appearances in divorce proceedings. At stages in the divorce process where you need to appear in court in person, out-of-state proceedings can be a challenge.

Again, you don't have to face those challenges on your own. Our family law attorneys have extensive experience helping our clients navigate challenging out-of-state divorce scenarios. If you are seeking a divorce and you and your spouse live in different states, or plan on moving to different states, contact us today to discuss your rights and options.

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