I just met with a client who was married in Canada and now wants to file for divorce in California. At our initial consultation he asked me if this was possible. I first thought that question was complicated. However, once I gave it some thought, I realized how simple it was once a person understood the law behind jurisdiction over marital dissolutions.
Generally, states have jurisdiction to dissolve a marriage if at least one spouse is domiciled in the forum state. Other states must give full faith and credit to a dissolution decree based on domicile as long as domicile is genuine.
California law defines domicile as usually being the place where a person has his or her home and, at least for that purpose, no person has more than one domicile at a time. Home is defined as a place where a person dwells and that is the center of his or her domestic, social, and civil life. Further, according to Family Code Section 2320 a judgment of dissolution of marriage may not be entered unless one of the parties to the marriage has been a resident of California for six months and of the county in which the proceeding is filed for three months immediately preceding the filing of the petition.
Under the law, where you got married is not as important as were you are living when you decide to get divorced. Thus, after thinking back to my law school days, I was able to advice this potential client that as long as he lived in California for 6 months and in Sonoma County for 3 months, he would be able to file for divorce on his Canadian marriage.