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Case Notes: Proper "venue" for a divorce complaint

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 forum 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.

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In the PA Superior Court case of Kropf v. 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 of filing.

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.

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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 have exceptions.