Proper Venue to Modify or Enforce Foreign Divorce Judgment is the County Where Responding Party Lives

In January 2017, the Fifth District appeals Court reversed the Seminole County court’s decision to grant former Husband’s petition to modify a foreign divorce final judgment because he brought the case in the wrong county.

In this case, the spouses were married in Miami but separated while they were living in Germany. The husband relocated to Seminole County during their separation. Before the Wife left Germany, she obtained a German divorce decree that gave her sole custody of their child in common. The wife then relocated to Miami-Dade County.

Unhappy with the child custody decision in the German divorce decree, the former husband filed an action in Seminole County to modify child custody. Wife responded by filing a motion to transfer the case to where she lived, in Miami.

The issue at hand is “venue,” meaning which court within the state of Florida is the proper court to decide ex-husband’s petition to modify the German divorce decree.

Judge Kerry Evander of the Fifth District Court of Appeal found that § 47.011 of the Florida Statutes applies to actions to establish a foreign divorce decree as a Florida judgment and states that “[a]ctions shall be brought only in the county where the defendant resides, where the cause of action accrued, or where the property in litigation is located.” Thus, the appellate court held that an action to domesticate or register a foreign divorce judgment for modification or enforcement must be filed in the county where the responding party resides. In this case, the Court said the proper county for the divorce and child custody case to be heard was the county in which Wife as the responding party resided.

Even though the general rule provides that proper venue is the county in which the respondent resides, the respondent can waive objection to venue by failing to timely raise it with the court. The former husband further argued that his ex-wife waived any objection she had as to venue because she filed emergency motions in the Seminole County case without including any objection as to venue. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that ex-wife’s failure to challenge venue in earlier emergency proceedings did not constitute waiver, and that the ex-wife properly raised venue in her later-filed answer to her ex-husband’s supplemental divorce petition. Nunez-Miller v. Miller, __ So. 3d __, 2107 WL 127642 (Fla. 5th DCA 2017).

There are a variety of forum-related considerations when filing a divorce and child custody case, including subject matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, venue, law of the case, and judicial assignment. There are frequently exceptions and caveats to the general rules. Of course even if you could object to jurisdiction doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Sometimes it’s more convenient and efficient to proceed with a case in a particular jurisdiction, even if you have a right to register an objection.

Many people don’t realize that establishing proper jurisdiction and venue is a significant milestone in the case and can require considered attention. The above example is case in point. Husband spent a lot of time, money, and effort to bring his case in Seminole County. It turned out to be the wrong county, and he had to begin again with a new judge in Miami. It’s always a good idea to consult an attorney about these issues at the beginning of your case.

Do you have questions about registering, modifying, or enforceing a divorce decree from outside of Florida, like this one from Germany? Contact Michael DeVoe, an experienced family law attorney with offices in Kissimmee and Orlando. Michael can answer your questions about the enforcement of foreign judgments, as well as any other family law concerns, such as child support modification, custody, and injunctions. Contact Michael DeVoe today for a free consultation at (407) 284-1620 or use the easy-to-use email form on our website.