Two people are married for 20 years. They used to live in Pennsylvania but moved to New Jersey across the river and lived there for two years.

Wife gets kicked out around January 1 by husband so she takes her minor daughter and moves to Pennsylvania. Husband continues to live in their house in NJ.

Wife hires an attorney and files for divorce in May in New Jersey Superior Court. Husband shows up Pro Se to answer in June. Wife is awarded child support and several other things. Husband DOES NOT contest jurisdiction then nor does he dispute that he lives in NJ at that time.

But in July Husband hires an attorney and files to have the entire divorce dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

His reasons are that he never changed his drivers license from PA to NJ. That he still has his business in PA. He claims he moved out of the NJ house in January.

Every time the daughter went to visit Husband for visitation, she went to the NJ house. Even as recently as June. Husband was seen coming home to the NJ house several times in March and was photographed doing so at that house.

He claims the house is still owned by him but is empty and he is not renting it out.

How likely is it that he will be able to convince the NJ court that they don't have jurisdiction? What should a good attorney be doing to keep the suit from being dismissed?

If it's dismissed would the entire case be dumped as if it never happened? What if the divorce is then filed in PA and Husband tries to get it dismissed there for lack of jurisdiction? And is a PA divorce usually that much better for a man than a NJ divorce?

  • 2
    "And is a PA divorce usually that much better for a man than a NJ divorce?" No, he's just trying to get a second bite at the apple with a lawyer the second time around.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 23, 2018 at 16:33
  • 2
    It sound like the divorce was concluded in NJ before he tried to challenge it in July. If it was concluded by a separation agreement that may limit the extent to which it was challenged as it would be a final order not appealed. Lack of subject-matter jurisdiction would probably be the only ground for doing so, and the issue of whether that is present or absent and under what grounds it can be challenged when he consents is quite technical and calls for a lawyer's involvement.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 23, 2018 at 16:51
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    @ohwilleke I'm not sure it was concluded. His answer to the suit was supposed to be in June. But he showed up and wanted more time, and did not yet and still has not yet provided the court with the things the court demanded; his assets, income, tax statements, etc. He's dragging this out as much as he can in order to force his wife to accept whatever he offers as a settlement. Pendente Lite was denied as was him having to pay for his wife's counsel.
    – mark b
    Jul 23, 2018 at 18:26

2 Answers 2


New Jersey has jurisdiction under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-10 provided that

at the time the cause of action arose, either party was a bona fide resident of this State, and has continued so to be down to the time of the commencement of the action; except that no action for absolute divorce or dissolution of a civil union shall be commenced for any cause other than adultery, unless one of the parties has been for the 1 year next preceding the commencement of the action a bona fide resident of this State;

(which if you undo the contorted writing, mean one of you must be a resident for a year, except if the cause is adultery). Under this scenario, the wife did not continue to be a resident of NJ, so it is crucial that the husband be a bona fide resident. The problem is that there is no general law defining residency for all legal purposes, instead, residency is defined on a law-by-law basis (or, not defined). 52:14-7 which imposes a residency requirement on state employees says that

a person may have at most one principal residence, and the state of a person's principal residence means the state (1) where the person spends the majority of the person's nonworking time, and (2) which is most clearly the center of the person's domestic life, and (3) which is designated as the person's legal address and legal residence for voting.

The husband is apparently an NJ resident under (1) and probably (2), and possibly (3). It would not matter whether he was living in that particular house, the question was whether he was living in the state (presumably yes since otherwise you would have said "he moved out of the state"). Voter registration, another measure of residency, requires 30 days living in NJ (and is itself proof of residency). Another way of determining residency is via state income tax. You are a full time resident if

New Jersey was not your domicile, but you maintained a permanent home in New Jersey for the entire year and you spent more than 183 days in New Jersey


New Jersey was your domicile for the entire year,

as long as it's not the case that

You did not spend more than 30 days in New Jersey

You did maintain a permanent home outside New Jersey

You did not maintain a permanent home in New Jersey

Under tax law, the husband is a resident.

Failure to get an NJ license is itself against the law, so that would not be a valid argument that the husband is not a resident. Owning a business in another state also does not negate residency.

  • 2
    There is a separate analysis under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act for jurisdiction to make a custody determination for the child, which depends upon the "home state" of the child. But, absence from the state for five months is not enough to change the home state from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, so the conclusion that the New Jersey court has jurisdiction stands.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 23, 2018 at 16:32
  • This actually happened - the jurisdiction remained in NJ
    – mark b
    Aug 5, 2018 at 22:40

I have nothing to add to user6726's answer (and I'm not knowledgeable about divorce law). I will only address the remaining questions.

What if the divorce is then filed in PA and Husband tries to get it dismissed there for lack of jurisdiction?

If he prevailed in getting it dismissed in NJ, the doctrine of judicial estoppel would dictate that he cannot prevail getting it dismissed also in PA. See Widener Univers., Inc. v. Estate of Boetner, 726 A.2d 1059, 1062 (1999):

Judicial estoppel is a doctrine that prohibits a party from taking a position in a subsequent judicial proceeding that is inconsistent with the party's position in a prior judicial proceeding.

And that applies "particularly if his/her contentions were successfully maintained", Ballestrino v. Ballestrino, 583 A.2d 474 ; 400 Pa.SuperiorCt. 237, 246(1990).

And is a PA divorce usually that much better for a man than a NJ divorce?

I have never litigated in either state, but I strongly encourage you to see this eyebrow-raising report about NJ judges' and attorneys' habit of dragging divorce cases for as long as the attorneys can get more and more money from each one's clients. Judicial corruption and perversity are terrible and very common, but unfortunately the public allows these "officers" to remain in the court system.

Searching for "Pennsylvania", "court", "corruption" and akin terms on Youtube might give you an idea of whether PA fares any better in that regard. A quick search shows, for instance, this video about judge Mark Ciavarella, a felon convicted for "racketeering and other charges in connection with a kick-back scheme connected to probate juvenile detention". The fact that he has been convicted is somewhat encouraging about PA, especially since in other states judicial felons aren't prosecuted even when they get busted by Law Enforcement (for instance, Michigan judge felon Carol Kuhnke).

Based on the legal research I've conducted during my litigation (always in pro per), my impression is that PA case law is richer, more evolved, in comparison with the case law of other jurisdictions (such as Michigan and possibly NJ).

  • 1
    A key question jurisdictionally is whether the jurisdiction issue here counts as one of "subject matter jurisdiction" which cannot be waived and can be raised at any time, or "personal jurisdiction' which is waived if not asserted. I would lean towards subject matter jurisdiction in this case but it is a close call.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 23, 2018 at 16:36

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