Jon vs Kate: What about the 8?

It is official.

On Monday, June 22, 2009 Katie I. Gosselin filed for divorce against Jonathan K. Gosselin in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, Norristown, Pennsylvania.

Per the complaint, the address listed for both parties is Sinking Springs, Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Hmmm. The first question that comes to mind is why didn’t Kate file in her home county? Is she allowed to file wherever she wants?

First of all, just to clarify – this is not a jurisdictional issue: Pennsylvania, where the parties have lived and currently reside, certainly has jurisdiction to decide the case and divorce the parties. What is at issue is venue: specifically, what court in Pennsylvania should hear the case.

Thankfully, we have laws which decide these procedural issues.

The relevant law is found in Chapter 23 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statues, Section 3104, which states:

e) Venue.–A proceeding for divorce or annulment may be brought in the county:

  1. where the defendant resides;
  2. if the defendant resides outside of this Commonwealth, where the plaintiff resides;
  3. of matrimonial domicile, if the plaintiff has continuously resided in the county;
  4. prior to six months after the date of final separation and with agreement of the defendant, where the plaintiff resides or, if neither party continues to reside in the county of matrimonial domicile, where either party resides; or
  5. after six months after the date of final separation, where either party resides.

When you apply each of the above enumerated provision to the case we find:

  1. the defendant (Jon) resides in Berks County;
  2. not applicable – Jon resides in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania;
  3. matrimonial domicile – Berks County;
  4. where the plaintiff or either party resides – Berks County;
  5. where either party resides – Berks County.

Based upon the information known to the public, this divorce belongs in Berks County.

However, Rule 1920.2 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure also addresses venue in a divorce action.

Rule 1920.2 provides:

(a) The action, except for a claim for custody, may be brought only in the county

(1) in which the plaintiff or the defendant resides, or

(2) upon which the parties have agreed

(i) in a writing which shall be attached to the complaint, or

(ii) by participating in the proceeding.

(c) Notwithstanding any agreement of the parties, if neither the plaintiff nor the defendant has resided in the county at any time during the pendency of the action, the court, upon its own motion and for its own convenience, may transfer the action to the appropriate court of any other county where the action originally could have been brought.

So can they legally file in Montgomery County?

Yes. Legally they can be in Montgomery County if either one of the parties has established a residence in Montgomery County or the parties have already agreed in writing to Montgomery County.

My guess is the parties already have a written agreement to have the case heard in Montgomery County.

Why would they want to file in Montgomery County?

Privacy. Go figure. Berks County’s policy is to allow the public to access all legal pleadings filed with the court. Montgomery County drastically limits public access to the records and, generally, only will release pleadings, orders and related documents to the parties or their attorneys.

Interestingly, by Rule, custody cannot be decided in Montgomery County. Unless Jon and Kate agree on custody they will have to go back to Berks.

It is hard to believe that TLC does not have their hands in this matter. By filing in Montgomery County they (or the parties) maintain greater control of the release of information. Surely the creative producers at TLC will find a way to exploit this information black-out to boost the show’s ratings.

The high profile of Jon and Kate provides the public with a unique opportunity to explore issues that arise in contested divorce cases. Through this ongoing series I will offer comments and analysis of the proceedings and provide insight on how developments in Jon and Kate’s case may occur in other divorces. I am a Pennsylvania divorce attorney who is not involved in the Jon and Kate matter and the comments I present in this blog series are not case specific but rather intended to provide the public with helpful information on Pennsylvania divorce law.