Richter v. Richter: On Personal Jurisdiction in Divorce Cases

Posted by Steven D. Eversole | Sep 10, 2014 | 0 Comments

Richter v. Richter, a case from the Alaska Supreme Court, involved a couple who were married in 2010 in California.  They separated in 2011 and filed for divorce. At trial, the husband (“Defendant”) argued that the court lacked jurisdiction over him, because he was a resident of Idaho.

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As your Birmingham divorce lawyercan explain, in order for a court hear a case, it must have jurisdiction over both the subject matter and the parties involved in the litigation.  In the case of a divorce, the parties are normally required to have lived in the state for a statutory length of time before the court in that state has jurisdiction to hear the case.  In Alabama, at least one of the spouses must be a resident of the state, and the court must have personal jurisdiction over at least one of the parties.

In Richer, that state required that the parties live in the state for at least six months prior to filing for divorce.  According to court records, both the wife (“Plaintiff”) and Defendant were helicopter pilots and their respective jobs required frequent travel.  Defendant claimed that he moved to Alaska six years prior to getting married, but he was only there seasonally.  He testified that he had an Alaska driver's license for the past three years, applied for state fund dividends (for which he was denied), and listed Alaska as his state of residence on his federal income tax forms.
His claim for lack of personal jurisdiction was based on the fact that both parties traveled frequently and did not reside in the state for any continuous six-month period prior to filing for divorce. Plaintiff testified that Defendant rented out his house in Idaho and transferred all of his belongings to Alaska, and that, while he discussed moving back home, he never did until the parties separated.

The trial held that it did have proper personal jurisdiction over Defendant, because he was a resident of the state based upon all facts in evidence.  The remainder of the trial involved the party's martial assets and debts.

The main point of contention was in regard to a $100,000 loan from Defendant's mother.  Prior to the marriage, Plaintiff had more than $100,000 in high interest debt.  According to testimony, Defendant's mother offered to help out with this debt.  Plaintiff, on the other hand, testified that his mother gave him the money to invest, and eventually the couple decided that the best use for the money was to repay her high-interest debt. Her debt was paid off via wire transfer, and the couple made payments to Defendant's mother from their joint account. The trial court believed Plaintiff's account that it was a joint marital decision to use the money to repay the loans.
On appeal, the court held that the trial judge was correct in deciding that the court had personal jurisdiction over Defendant.  The court also held that the debt to Defendant's mother was joint marital debt.  One of the reasons was that, regardless of whose idea it was to use the money to repay the loan, the couple treated it as a martial debt by using their joint bank account to repay the loan.

Contact Birmingham divorce and family law attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.
Additional Resources:
Richter v. Richter, August 1, 2014, Alaska Supreme Court

About the Author

Steven D. Eversole

J.D., Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham, Alabama B.A., University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama


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