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Legal Information

Court System Basics

If the abuser lives out of state, when will the court have personal jurisdiction over the abuser?

For the majority of court cases, most states have what is known as a “long-arm statute,” which is a law that explains when a court can have personal jurisdiction over individuals who do not reside in that state. The long-arm statute lays out certain conditions, or “minimum contacts,” that must be met for the court to get personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Although this may vary from state to state, in general, the most common ways to get personal jurisdiction over the defendant are when:

  • the cause of action occurred in the state where the case is being filed;
  • the defendant was personally served with the court papers in the state; or
  • the defendant has a substantial connection with the state (often called “minimum contacts”).

Note: There is one important exception to the information explained in this section. In cases involving custody of minor children, it does not necessarily matter if the other parent lives out of state. The court generally looks at where the children live – and that state’s court usually has jurisdiction over the children and their parents. There is a law called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) that deals with this issue and applies in all states (except in Massachusetts where a similar law applies and Puerto Rico where no similar law has been adopted). The UCCJEA is a uniform law (statute) adopted by individual states that helps to set the “home state” that has jurisdiction over the children, and therefore, the parties. For more information on filing for custody in your state, you can go to our Custody page for the state where you will be filing.

If the cause of the legal action occurred in the state, would a court in that state have personal jurisdiction?

The “cause of action” basically means the reason that you are suing someone. If the cause of action happened in the state where you are trying to get personal jurisdiction over the other party, this is one way for the court to get personal jurisdiction. For example, let’s say you live in Virginia and your partner lives in Florida. If your partner assaulted you in Virginia while visiting you, then Virginia would have jurisdiction over you and your out of state partner to hear a court case related to that assault.

Does the court have personal jurisdiction if the other party was served court papers in the state?

After you file a court case, the other party has to be served with a copy of the papers that you filed and be notified of the upcoming court date. If you can have the defendant personally served with the court papers in the state where you filed the case, this will generally give the court personal jurisdiction to hear your court case. “Personal service” means someone other than you or another party in the court case hands the notice and the petition/complaint or other necessary documents directly to the person you are trying to sue. For example, if you know that the other party is coming to your state to visit family, attend a concert, or go to a business meeting, you can arrange to have him/her personally served with the court papers while s/he is in the state.

Note: In some states, service must be done by a sheriff or another certified person known as a process server. You may want to speak with a lawyer in your state to see if there are any special service rules that might apply in your situation.

How can I prove that the defendant has a substantial connection (“sufficient minimum contacts”) with the state where I file my case?

Generally, a court can get personal jurisdiction over a party if that party has a substantial connection (“sufficient minimum contacts”) with that state. In most cases, these contacts can be related or unrelated to the court case you are trying to bring. For example, if the defendant owns a home (“real property”) in the state or conducts substantial business in the state, then the court may be able to have personal jurisdiction over him/her. Proving sufficient minimum contacts can be a complicated issue and if you are trying to get jurisdiction over another party based on these contacts, you should consult with a Lawyer familiar with the laws of your state.