What is Jurisdiction?

Jurisdiction provides a court with the power to issue orders and adjudicate cases. Without it, in democratic societies, justice would not survive. Before any court will hear any case, the court must determine that it has jurisdiction to do so.

There are three basic types of jurisdiction:

  1. Jurisdiction over the person (known as in personam jurisdiction),
  2. Jurisdiction over the subject matter, or res (known as in rem jurisdiction), and
  3. Jurisdiction to render the particular judgment sought (such as a civil court vs. a criminal court).

In a family law court, personal jurisdiction is obtained when the parties in a case reside within the court’s jurisdiction (or physical territory of control, such as a county). If only one party resides in the county, and the other does not, but agrees to allow that court to determine the outcome of their case, then the court has jurisdiction.

If the subject matter (in Family court, usually property) is within the court’s physical territory, then the court has jurisdiction over the property. If the property is located in another jurisdiction (such as real estate in another state), the court may still have jurisdiction, if it has personal jurisdiction over the parties. Where the court has the power over the people, the court can tell the people how to distribute the property.

In California, family law matters are held in county superior courts. After a judgment is reached, and a party believes the judgment is in error, that party can appeal the decision to Appellate Court. If a party still believes the decision of the Appellate Court is in error, that decision can be appealed to the California State Supreme Court.

Although the definition of jurisdiction sounds simple enough, often the application of jurisdiction is very technical, and should be handled by a legal professional.

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