A recent Pennsylvania court opinion decided the proper county for completing
a divorce. In the
Kropf case, Wife filed for divorce in her new county only one month after leaving
the marital county.
Finding the proper county for filing a divorce is a question of
venue and also of
non conveniens (inconvenience).
Venue is the proper county or judicial district for a case. Venue is similar,
but not identical, to
jurisdiction. In family law,
jurisdiction generaliy refers to the proper state for a case.
Forum non conveniens generally refers to the preference of one county or another for the sake
of convenience. The applicable PA rule (Pa.R.C.P. 1006(d)(1)) states that:
For the convenience of the parties and witnesses the court upon petition
of any party may transfer an action to the appropriate court of any other
county where the action could originally have been brought.
In the PA Superior Court case of
Kropf,24 A3d 405 (Pa. Super 2011), Husband and Wife lived in Schuylkill County, Pennsyvlania. Wife then moved
out of the marital home and into Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Wife filed
for divorce in Lehigh County one month later. Husband was served with
the Complaint in Divorce but chose not to do anything for two years. After
two years, Husband sought to have the case moved to his county on the
theory that Wife has only resided in Lehigh County for one month prior
to her filing. Husband also pointed out that venue attached at the time
Normally, one must reside in a state for 6 months before filing for divorce
in that state. However, the court pointed out that the 6 month rule does
not apply to counties. Wife could file her Compalint in Divorce in Lehigh
County so long as she resided in Lehigh at the time she filed (she did).
So, the 6-month-rule, did not apply.
Husband might still have contested "venue", but Husband waived
(lost) his right to argue about proper venue because he did not raise
Preliminary Objections at the time that Wife filed her Divorce Complaint.
Husband also argued that Leghigh was a less "convenient" county.
This argument was not waived by Husband's failure to file Preliminary
Objections or the passage of time. However, the Superior Court will give
the trial court a lot of leeway in making "convenience" decisions.
The lower court decision on such matters will not be overturned unless
the decision was an "abuse of discretion". A high standard.
Also, Husband had the burden of proving his "convenience" argument.
The Superior Court admitted that Schuylkill County (Husband's county)
was more convenient for Husband because he and several witnesses would
need to expend significant time and money to testify in Lehigh County.
However, the Superior Court found that the inconvenience was not seroius
enough to conclude that the trial court abused its discretion.
Accordingly, the Superior Court ruled that the divorce could proceed and
conclude in Wife's chosen venue of Lehigh County.
As always, speak to your attorney before applying this case to your circumstances.
In the interest of clarity, I did not address several aspects of the
Kropf opinion. Also, almost all rules have exceptions and the exceptions often