Almost all states have residency requirements for people who want to file for divorce, but how that is defined can differ between jurisdictions. Specifically, some states require people to have a domicile in the area, while others are satisfied with the person being just a resident. Here's the difference between the two and how it impacts your divorce proceedings.
Domicile vs. Residency
For the purposes of filing for a divorce, states define residency as the place where a person lives. It may or may not be the individual's permanent home, but the court will let the divorce proceed as long as the petitioner or the soon-to-be ex-spouse have lived in the area for the required length of time. In Pennsylvania, you can file for divorce after you've been in the state for 6 months, for example.
When a state requires a person to have a domicile in the area, on the other hand, the individual must have a fixed and permanent home there. You'll have to show that the state is your (or your ex's) true home and that there is an intent to stay for a long time. This can be harder to prove than simple residency, and you may need to present quite a bit of supporting evidence, such as a voter registration or property ownership.
Establishing residency is critical because it determines what type of authority the jurisdiction has over the various matters related to the divorce. For instance, if you move away and file for divorce where you currently live, the state can grant the separation request but not have any authority to decide on custody issues if the child lives in another state with your ex.
As you can imagine, jurisdictional conflicts can significantly impact your rights. However, there are a couple of ways you can minimize them. One way is to file for divorce in the state that will have jurisdiction over most or all divorce issues. Going back to the custody example, you would want to file for divorce in the state where you ex lives so the courts can work out the custody and child support issues right there and ensure everything is legally binding.
An alternative option is to have your ex consent to letting the jurisdiction you're currently living in decide all matters, particularly if the laws in your state are more favorable to you. If you live in a community property state and your ex lives in a common law one, you'd want to have your state handle property division issues since community property states tend to divide marital assets more evenly between spouses, for example.
For help with your divorce or to initiate proceedings, contact a local divorce lawyer.