Divorce Court Jurisdiction

To obtain a divorce in Colorado, the court must have “jurisdiction” over the case and parties. “Jurisdiction” simply means the court’s authority to grant the divorce. There are two types of jurisdiction: “subject matter jurisdiction” and “personal jurisdiction.” The court must have both subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction over the parties before it can grant a divorce.

Subject matter jurisdiction:

Subject matter jurisdiction is a court’s authority to render a judgment in the type of case before it. A court may only render a judgment in a case if it has subject matter jurisdiction over that class of cases. To illustrate, a water court does not have jurisdiction to render a judgment in a medical malpractice case. A small claims court does not have jurisdiction to render a judgment in a multi-million dollar commercial dispute.

In Colorado, the district courts have subject matter jurisdiction over divorces, child custody cases, and most other types of family law cases. All divorce cases, and almost all other family law cases, are brought in the district court. Juvenile courts may also have jurisdiction over some types of family law cases dealing with minors.

Before the district court may exercise subject matter jurisdiction in a divorce, one of the spouses must have been domiciled in Colorado for the 91 day period prior to the date the divorce is filed. “Domicile” basically means the person lives in Colorado as his or her primary residence.

Personal jurisdiction:

Personal jurisdiction is the court’s authority over the people involved in the case. In addition to subject matter jurisdiction, the court must have personal jurisdiction over both parties in the case.

The court obtains personal jurisdiction over the Petitioner by the Petitioner filing the case. The court obtains personal jurisdiction over the Respondent by either (1) the spouses jointly filing the Petition, (2) the Respondent’s written waiver and acceptance of service of the Petition and court summons, or (3) the Respondent being personally served within the state with the Petition and court summons. If the Respondent attempts to evade service, there are ways to legally serve him or her by “substituted service” or “service by publication.”

In certain circumstances, Colorado courts will exercise personal jurisdiction over non-Colorado residents. For example, if the parties maintained a “matrimonial domicile” in Colorado, Colorado courts will exercise jurisdiction relating to maintenance and child support as long as one of the parties continues to be domiciled in the state, even if the other party resides and is served out of state. If the parties engaged in sexual intercourse in Colorado, Colorado courts may exercise jurisdiction relating to paternity, child support and payment of child’s health insurance premiums, and the payment of the mother’s reasonable pregnancy expenses even if the other party resides and is served out of state.

Once the court has subject matter jurisdiction over the case and personal jurisdiction over the parties, it may decide all issues in the divorce, including property division, maintenance, attorney fees and issues regarding the children.

Jurisdiction over out-of-state and foreign child custody and child support orders

Colorado courts will enforce out-of-state child custody and child support orders and, in some cases, foreign child custody and child support orders.

In certain circumstances, Colorado courts may modify an out-of-state or foreign child custody or support order, as long as certain criteria are met. Whether Colorado courts may step in and modify an out-of-state or foreign child custody or support order is a complex and technical issue that is very fact-specific. If you are seeking to have a Colorado court enforce or modify an out-of-state or foreign child custody or support order, please call us to set up an appointment to discuss whether a Colorado court has authority to exercise jurisdiction in your case.