Broadly, the term “venue” in the legal context refers to the court or courts in which a plaintiff may file a particular kind of lawsuit. Florida has a statute with three distinct bases for determining proper venue, which state courts have repeatedly interpreted in the context of a divorce proceeding.
The Florida venue statute says that a civil action can be filed “only in the county where the defendant resides, where the cause of action accrued, or where the property in litigation is located,” except if the defendant is a nonresident.
First, the Florida Supreme Court has said that of these three bases for venue, “where the property in litigation is located” does not apply to divorce petitions. The court explained in Goedmakers v. Goedmakers that this refers to a “local action,” meaning a proceeding against “property having a fixed location” within a particular county. In such a suit, venue would only be in the courts within that county because a legal matter relating to the property is the “underlying major question in the case.”
Rather than being local, a dissolution of marriage proceeding is “personal or transitory,” where the underlying main issue in the case is the legal termination of the marriage, even if there are issues related to property division or ownership within the divorce.
Second, courts have generally held that venue based on “where the cause of action accrued” in a divorce action means venue is proper in courts in the last county where the parties lived together with the mutual intention to stay married.
Third, Florida courts have also allowed venue in the county where the respondent lives, meaning the spouse who is responding to the petition. This is the only basis for venue if the place where the parties last resided together intending to continue their marriage was outside of Florida, so long as the respondent lives in Florida.
Other logistical details of a marriage can make venue more complicated. For example, if a Florida resident (of at least the six months required to file for divorce) wants to sue for divorce but the other spouse lives out of state and the parties never lived together in Florida in an intact marriage, courts have said the Florida spouse may file in any county in the state.
The Supreme Court in Goedmakers advised that the petitioner in a divorce must include in their petition the legal basis for the venue chosen. At our law firm, we advise our divorce clients about their venue options, along with any related considerations relevant to the decision of where to file.
Once a petition for divorce has been filed, Florida law allows the court to order a change of venue to another court, but only if the other court could have originally provided a legal venue and only for either the convenience of parties or witnesses or for the interests of justice.