jurisdiction family law

Jurisdiction in family law cases – In the United States, people moving from one state to another is not at all uncommon.  Often people move for better opportunity, to be closer to family, for better weather, and for a variety of other reasons.  Usually how it could potentially affect a family law case is not part of that consideration.  In this blog, we will talk about how where you live can affect a family law case, and its ability to be heard.

In blog, we are going to discuss jurisdiction when it comes to family court.  Like all of our blogs, this blog is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice and counsel of a family law attorney.

What is jurisdiction?

Jurisdiction is the fancy legal term for something very simple, the power of the court over a matter before them, or a person before them.  The power of a court to hear a matter before them is called subject matter jurisdiction, while the power of a court over an individual is called personal jurisdiction.

In family courts in general, jurisdiction is based on where the parties live either currently, or where they lived at the time of the filing of their legal action.

Family court jurisdiction in general

In North Carolina, typically family court matters are held in district court in the county where at least one of the parties live.  That is because typically when starting a family law action, you must file in the county where the defendant lives so that the court can have not only have personal jurisdiction, but also to ensure that that particular court is the appropriate venue.

One of the most common calls we get is someone calling us here in North Carolina after recently moving to the state. They want to start a family law action against their spouse who lives in New York, has always lived in New York, and has no ties to North Carolina. Additionally, in this example, all the marital property is in New York and everything in controversy is in New York.  Most of the time, we can’t help that person.  That person needs a New York Attorney to file a New York action.

Jurisdiction with regards to specific types of family law cases

Not all family law cases are created equally, and jurisdiction becomes either a bigger or smaller concern in some of them.  Below are just two examples:


  • Typically, with an uncontested divorce, in order to file in North Carolina, either the plaintiff or the defendant must reside in North Carolina, and it can typically be filed in any county (because typically the defendant does not object to venue).
  • If that divorce where to be contested however, the county where a hearing would be held would matter a great deal.

Child Custody

  • Typically, a child custody action must be filed for the first time where the child has resided for the six months preceding the filing of the action. Additionally, child custody actions remain in the state they were originally filed even after one of the parties moves, until and unless appropriate steps are taken to ask another court to assume jurisdiction.  There are of course exceptions to this that you can discuss with an attorney by setting up a consultation.

Family law is very technical, complicated, and stressful, and it usually is not something that most people end up wanting to tackle on their own.  If you are in need of a family law attorney in Charlotte, NC or the surrounding areas, contact us.

Call Now Button