Oklahoma Divorce and County Jurisdictions
Had an interesting case this week. It involved competing jurisdictions within the state of Oklahoma. Had a client come to me escaping what she alleged was a domestic abuse situation and we decided she should file for a legal separation versus a divorce. I will explain why that was the best option. In Oklahoma, the statutes require that for a party to file for a divorce in a particular jurisdiction they must be a resident of the state of Oklahoma for the preceding 6 months and a resident of the county in which they’re filing for at least 30 days.
However, under the legal separation statute, one must only be a resident of the county for a single day. So what that means is, is that if you meet the requirement of residency in the state of Oklahoma for 6 months, you can only file in the county for divorce that you live in if you’ve been there for at least 30 days.
However, if you are fleeing a jurisdiction for domestic violence purposes or safety concerns and you go to a neighboring county within the same state of Oklahoma, you are entitled to file for a legal separation which will protect your assets and rights prior to filing for divorce.
As we discussed her entire situation we determined that her case fit this scenario and so she filed the legal separation. However, the other spouse quickly filed for divorce where he was legally able to in the county that they had resided in for previous 30 days. So then we had a question of law in both counties as to which county would assume jurisdiction. There is case law on this point and it was interesting to know though the statute seems to allow, under the uniform child custody enforcement act, that if someone was at least making a claim for a domestic abuse situation or safety concerns that the Court shall consider those factors when determining which county would be most appropriate.
Courts frown upon the idea that you and your spouse live in a county for months or years and then all of the sudden one spouse or the other packs up the kids or kid and runs to a neighboring county and files for some sort of temporary relief such as a protective order or a legal separation. The Courts have this preference because, typically speaking, the county in which you’ve resided for that period of time would be the most appropriate to have the information relevant to be able to sort out the issues in a divorce, legal separation or custody case. However, there are extenuating circumstances from time to time where people feel unsafe in their home and their family lives and they were living in Oklahoma City so they go to Cleveland County and file for some sort of relief. And it puts the Court in a position to have to get some more information when determining which county would be the most appropriate venue to hear the case.
So again, the Courts do not wish to encourage that type of behavior. They seek to have litigants stay in their home counties when they’re wishing to dissolve their marriages or legally separate, but again these things do come up and then they create interesting points of law. So if one is considering a legal separation or divorce, it is, most of the time appropriate to file in the county in which you have resided in for the last at least 30 days unless there is an abusive situation in which case it is very appropriate to go to another county.