Washington Appeals Court Upholds Divorce of Foreign Nationals

Courts must have jurisdiction over the cases they hear.  A husband recently challenged the jurisdiction of the Washington court that dissolved his marriage.  To petition for divorce in Washington, the petitioner or their spouse must be a resident of Washington.  RCW 26.09.030.  Washington courts have held that this means a party must be domiciled in Washington.

The wife was a Polish citizen and the husband was a Swiss citizen.  They got married in Switzerland in 2012 and then moved with their children to Washington in 2014. They both worked in Washington and enrolled their children in local schools and activities.

The parties separated in October of 2018 and the wife filed for divorce the following April.  The husband argued the court did not have jurisdiction over the divorce because he and the children were not domiciled in Washington. The wife testified that the husband’s job was a permanent position and they had no solid plans to go back to Switzerland.  She said she considered the move to Washington to be “a new beginning.” She said she intended to remain in Washington permanently with the children, her fiancé, and her new baby.

The husband had kept his apartment in Switzerland.  He testified the plan had always been to go back and the only change was when.

The trial court concluded it had jurisdiction over the divorce proceedings because the domicile requirement had been met.  The trial court dissolved the marriage and divided the property pursuant to the marital contract between the parties.  The wife was awarded custody and primary-decision making authority.  The husband was ordered to pay child support.

The husband appealed based on jurisdiction. He argued the parties were not Washington residents.

Domicile is based on the person’s intent.  A person is domiciled in a state when they reside there and intend to make it their home.

The wife said she filed her petition in Washington because she lived in the U.S.  She testified she did not want to go back to Europe and in fact did not have a reason to do so.

The husband argued the wife’s intent was illusory and that she did not have a legal right to stay in the U.S. without him. The appeals court rejected his argument, noting that a party does not have to be a U.S. citizen nor have legal status in the U.S. to establish domicile for a divorce proceeding.  The statute only requires residency.

The evidence showed the wife intended for Washington to be her home since 2014.  Domicile is presumed to continue once it is established, with the party alleging a change having the burden to show it through substantial evidence. The appeals court noted that the husband’s speculation about the wife’s future immigration status was not sufficient to prove a change in her domicile.

Because a Washington court has jurisdiction over a dissolution proceeding if either party is a resident of Washington, the wife’s residence was sufficient for the trial court to have jurisdiction.  The appeals court therefore affirmed the trial court’s rulings.

If you are considering divorce, a skilled Washington divorce attorney can advise you of your rights and options and help you decide how to proceed.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to set up a consultation.


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