Determining Jurisdiction in a Military Divorce

If you’re considering a military divorce, one of the first and most important questions to ask is, “Where should I file for divorce?” The question can be a confusing one, as military families tend to move from state to state. It is common for a military couple to grow up in one state, get married in a second state, and live in a third state.

Before filing for a military divorce, it is crucial to identify the court that has jurisdiction over your case. The term “jurisdiction” refers to the ability of the court to hear a case and make decisions with regard to both property and people.

To get divorced in the state of Colorado, at least one party must be a resident of Colorado. While merely residing in the state for an extended time typically qualifies an individual as a resident, unique circumstances apply to service members. This is because members of the military may elect a state of residence, and often this elected state of residence differs from the state in which they physically reside.

In Colorado, at least one of the parties are required to have been domiciled in the state for at least 91 days before filing for a dissolution of marriage. From a legal standpoint, “domiciled” refers to an individual residing in a location with the intention of making that location their permanent or long-term home.

Colorado law states that state courts have jurisdiction over a service member if he or she has taken steps to become a resident of Colorado, such as registering to vote, opening a bank account, or obtaining a driver’s license. It is not enough for a service member to reside in Colorado simply due to orders. The law also states that only one spouse needs to be a Colorado resident in order to file for divorce. Jurisdiction is therefore not an issue if one spouse is a service member and one spouse is not.

Note that although Colorado courts can have jurisdiction over a military member, they may not have jurisdiction for dividing a military retirement, unless the divorce proceedings are initiated by the service member.

State laws vary when it comes to divorce, and where to file can greatly impact how a divorce will proceed. If you have concerns about where to file for divorce, consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible.