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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.