Say you just got to Utah and you want to file for divorce. How long do you have to wait until you can actually file?

This is a great question and it has to do with something called jurisdiction.

Jurisdiction is the idea a particular place can make judicial decisions only when it has proper authority over a person or thing. In divorce, a state has to have jurisdiction over at least one of the spouses to make determinations in a divorce case.

In Utah, we have a specific law that answers this “how long” question:

The court may decree a dissolution of the marriage contract between the petitioner and respondent on the grounds specified in Subsection (3) in all cases where the petitioner or respondent has been an actual and bona fide resident of this state and of the county where the action is brought, or if members of the armed forces of the United States who are not legal residents of this state, where the petitioner has been stationed in this state under military orders, for three months next prior to the commencement of the action.

Utah Code, Section 30-3-1(2).

That’s a long way of saying you have to live in Utah for three months before you can file for divorce. In every divorce case we have litigated, three months actually means ninety days.

On a side note: the language “actual and bona fide resident of this state” is legal language that is designed to ensure only actual residents of Utah can file for divorce. In other words, you can’t live in California, come to Utah, stay in a hotel for ninety days, and then file for divorce. You actually have to be in Utah ninety days, intend to remain in Utah, and behave like you will remain in Utah.

We have litigated some “actual bona fide resident” cases, but they are very rare. Really, if you’ve been in Utah for ninety days, you’re good to file.

Divorce with kids

If you have children, the answer becomes slightly more complicated, but the basic rule of thumb is this: you can file for divorce after only ninety days, but Utah will not address child custody matters until the children have been in Utah for at least six months.

(I’ll explain why this is in a future blog post, but six months is the gist.)

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