Jurisdiction In Divorce and Conservatorship Suits
Jurisdictional principles in family law matters, are at best confusing, and at worst a hodge-podge. In the past 30 or more years the United States Supreme Court has developed an unsystematic, albeit relatively extensive, body of case law relating to divorce and parent-child jurisdiction in response to a number of legal, societal, and political factors, including the existence of divorce mill states such as Nevada, the resistance of many states to this intrusion into local control over divorce, the significant mobility of individuals in modern society, and a greatly increasing divorce rate. Many of the problems have arisen when the divorcing spouses resided in different states at the time of divorce. Although this situation presents difficulties enough, even greater complications arise when the parties move to other states after the initial decree. Because family disputes sometimes result in virtually continuous litigation, conflict of laws problems do not end at the initial "final hearing"; they often occur in a subsequent suit for modification or enforcement of a prior decree. Courts and legislatures have struggled with the Supreme Court's rules, attempting to bring some order to the chaos. Texas, long a leader in this regard, culminated its efforts in 1975 by recognizing foreign long-arm statutes and enacting two such statutes in the Family Code. These actions, coupled with the "continuing jurisdiction" concept embraced by the Family Code in 1973, have moved Texas law toward ultimate resolution of the problems involved. The enactment of the Family Code was an ambitious and relatively successful project. Many of the former irregularities, abuses, and inconsistencies that existed in domestic relations cases have disappeared. Great progress has been made in resolving jurisdictional issues, particularly with the enactment of the long arm statutes in 1975. Of course, by no stretch of the imagination does the Family Code eliminate the problems of interstate divorce and custody. Whenever two or more states are involved, litigation is immeasurably and unavoidably more complex. Nonetheless, the Code represents a major step toward bringing some order to chaos. Although the long arm statutes will not be a panacea for conflict of laws problems, they will facilitate the interstate enforcement of personal judgments in matters of child support and arrearages, attorney's fees, division of out-of-state personalty, etc. In addition, they may promote greater respect in many states for a Texas award of managing conservatorship.