Filing a legal action in the jurisdiction of your legal residence is common knowledge, but the factors that determine a legal residence can be rather complicated in states like New Jersey. As one of the best states for education and job opportunities, New Jersey is home to a substantial population of globetrotting millionaires and celebrities. In addition, many of its over 8.9 million residents are immigrants who still retain citizenship and/or properties in their homeland. These ties can present considerable complications when filing for a divorce while temporarily residing in another state or country.
According to N.J.S.A. 2A:34-10, divorces can be filed in New Jersey “when, at the time the cause of action arose, either party was a bona fide resident of this state, and has continued so to be down to the time of the commencement of this action.” A “bona fide resident” of New Jersey is typically defined as someone with a domicile, or permanent residence within the state. In the legal sense, however, domicile can also mean a fixed residence to where an individual plans on returning, and from which he has no intention of moving. This is a critical clarification for individuals who have vacation homes, or live part of the year in another jurisdiction for business purposes.
Further clarification can be found in cases like Gosschalk and Gosschalk, in which the husband traveled extensively throughout the year for business. The court held that Mr. Gosschalk was a resident of New Jersey based on his actions, such as attempting to purchase a home in New Jersey and his extensive business contacts throughout the state. Hence, the other places he lived in throughout the year were determined to be temporary, primarily used for business purposes. Cases like Gosschalk illustrate how the plaintiff's actions are the primary basis for determining his or her legal residence in the context of a civil filing.
A plaintiff's actions, however, may be more subtle, thus requiring a higher degree of discretion by the court. In the Matter of Settlement of Unanue, Prudencio Unanue had lived in New Jersey for most of his life until 1970, when he relocated to Puerto Rico. He died there 6 years later, and in 1987, one of his sons claimed entitlement to the family trust. The plaintiff's argument was based on Puerto Rican law, which he believed was the appropriate jurisdiction since his father was living there at the time he executed the trust documents. The court ruled against the son, citing that while Prudencio was in Puerto Rico, he maintained his residence in New Jersey, and never purchased a home in Puerto Rico. He also retained his NJ Driver's License and kept his voter registration, which according to the court, implied that he still considered himself a resident of NJ. As you can see, jurisdiction is not always easy to determine, which is why it's important to consult an experienced attorney before filing for divorce.
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