Wilson Law Group regularly represents clients seeking a divorce from a spouse living outside of Minnesota.  We encounter a common situation where the parties have been separated for years, often by borders or oceans, but have not actually divorced.  Eventually, the spouse recognizes the time has come to dissolve the marriage, for various personal reasons.  The passage of time does not simply render the parties divorced (an unfortunate myth that continues to persist), and any subsequent marriages are invalid if the prior marriage is not dissolved. 

When the spouse is living outside of the country, the petitioning spouse in Minnesota may have questions about whether it is possible to divorce when the marriage happened abroad, and what a Minnesota judge can do to finalize the divorce and decide what will happen with the children and property.

A party can seek a divorce in Minnesota even if he or she was married elsewhere.  Under Minn. Stat. § 518.07, subd. 1, at least one of the parties must reside in the state for not less than 180 days immediately preceding the commencement of the proceeding.  This provision gives district courts subject matter jurisdiction over a marriage.  Jones v. Jones, 402 N.W.2d 146, 148 (Minn. Ct. App. 1987).  However, subject matter jurisdiction is not sufficient for deciding custody, property, debts, spousal maintenance, and other related issues that arise in a divorce proceeding. 

For a district court to render judgments with respect to property or spousal maintenance, it must have personal jurisdiction over both parties.  Suljic v. Suljic, 2016 WL 4596560, at *3 (Minn. Ct. App.) (Affirming the district court’s order vacating its marriage-dissolution judgment that divided marital property for such judgment is void due to a lack of personal jurisdiction over the husband, who had never lived, owned any property, done any business, caused any harm to anyone in Minnesota).  Therefore, if the client’s case involves division of any marital property or any claim of spousal maintenance or attorney fees, we must establish the district court’s personal jurisdiction over the nonresident spouse.

A Minnesota court must resolve two issues before it can exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident party. Sherburne Cty. Soc. Servs. v. Kennedy, 426 N.W.2d 866, 867 (Minn. 1988). It must determine first whether the statutory standard of the long-arm statute, Minn. Stat. § 543.19, is satisfied, and second, whether minimum contacts between the party and this state exist so that the exercise of personal jurisdiction would not offend due process. Id.

The long-arm statute enables a Minnesota court to exercise personal jurisdiction over any nonresident individual in the same manner as if the individual were a resident of this state as long as the nonresident individual, in person or through an agent, (1) owns, uses, or possesses any real or personal property situated in this state; (2) transacts any business within the state; (3) commits any act in Minnesota causing injury or property damage; or (4) commits any act outside Minnesota causing injury or property damage in Minnesota.” Minn. Stat. § 543.19.  Marquette National Bank of Minneapolis v. Norris, 270 N.W.2d 290, 295 (Minn.1978).

The Court must determine whether minimum contacts exist between the client’s nonresident spouse and Minnesota based on the specific facts of the case.  For example, the Court may inquire if the nonresident spouse had ever resided in Minnesota, held a driver’s license or employment here, or had contact with law enforcement.  Facts like these should be referenced in the petition for dissolution, stated on the record at the final dissolution hearing, and included in the Court’s findings.

The requirement of personal jurisdiction is an individual right that can be waived. North Cent. Servs., Inc. v. Eastern Communications, Inc., 379 N.W.2d 708, 710 (Minn.App.1986). However, the Court may find the nonresident spouse has a reasonable excuse for not responding to the summons and petition within the statutory time window.  

While it is possible to obtain a divorce from a nonresident spouse, it is important to evaluate what the client is seeking from the divorce.  If the spouse in Minnesota simply wants to dissolve the marriage, that can be done relatively quickly upon securing subject matter jurisdiction.  For decisions involving the division of property or children, a closer study is necessary to ensure that personal jurisdiction has been satisfied.  If you have any questions regarding divorce or any other family.