The DC Court of Appeals in Davis v. Davis, explained and expounded on the doctrine of forum non conveniens in conjunction with a divorce action.

Appellant Mr. Davis, filed for divorce in the District after meeting only the six months residency requirement all while his wife, child as well as all of their joint properties were located in Mississippi.

Davis sought only a divorce decree without adjudication of property or distribution and argued that the DC divorce statute allows for issuance of a final decree without any disposition of marital property.

Ms. Davis opposed the DC divorce petition arguing:

  • She had not been served personally,
  • She had no ties to the District,
  • The DC court therefore lacked personal jurisdiction over her,
  • She was not a bona fide resident of the District, and that
  • The District is thus an inconvenient forum to maintain the divorce action.

She also argued that in theory the statute required disposition of property and because all their mutual assets and property were outside the District, the DC court could not finalize a divorce action.

The Court of Appeals clarified that the DC court can in fact adjudicate and dispose marital property located outside the District, and issue orders accordingly requiring the parties to make transfers implementing the court’s ruling.

That is, in a divorce proceeding where the Superior Court has personal jurisdiction over both parties, the court must in the same proceeding value and distribute marital property located in the District as well as adjudicate rights in marital property located elsewhere or outside the District.

The key element is personal jurisdiction over both parties which did not exist here.  Moreover, before addressing whether there was personal jurisdiction, it was more apparent that the District was a forum non conveniens, which involves considerations of fairness, convenience and judicial economy rather than jurisdiction.

The standard for the application of the doctrine of forum non conveniens is generally: whether the forum chosen is so completely inappropriate and inconvenient that it is better to stop the litigation where brought and let it start all over again in another jurisdiction more appropriate.

In assessing the appropriateness of the District as proper jurisdiction, the court considered all the factors enumerated below that make it inefficient, costly, and burdensome to maintain the divorce action in the District and concluded that DC ultimately was a forum non conveniens:

  • Ms. Davis continued to reside in Mississippi,
  • The marital property and assets were located in Mississippi,
  • Her medical and health-monitoring needs were all in Mississippi,
  • Witnesses with relevant testimony regarding domestic relations, property, tax, financial and medical issues, were all predominantly in Mississippi,
  • There was already a Mississippi custody and support order issued in the matter,
  • The child’s schooling and extracurricular activities all were in Mississippi; and lastly
  • The already crowded court docket in the District was a consideration.

Thus, only meeting the residency requirement in the District may not be sufficient to maintain the action and significant other contacts with the jurisdiction may be required to prosecute a divorce filing in the District.

Please refer to our Washington DC Divorce Lawyer page for more detailed analysis.

Categories: Family Law.