Legalese — Home is where the Picture of Mom is

How to Know if your House is your Home

house homeWhere do you live? It seems like a simple question for most people, but it isn’t for everyone. And, when you are talking about the law, it matters. You sue someone where they live. You run for office where you live.

There is a difference between your ‘residence’ and your ‘domicile.’ There aren’t precise definitions of those words, but a residency is less permanent. You can have more than one residence, for example, your parents’ house and your college dorm room. Or if you have a lake or mountain house that you go to for the summers, and a ‘regular’ house that you live in most of the time, you would have two residences. People in the US Congress usually have at least two residences – one in the district from which they were elected, and one in D.C. where they do the People’s Work.

You can only have one domicile, however. There is no telling how many commas are in the number of lawyers’ fees spent arguing about where someone is domiciled. Like I said, there aren’t bright line rules, but, generally speaking, you register your car and register to vote in your domicile. The address on your drivers’ license is most likely your domicile. I remember one law professor saying, “Your domicile is where you hang the picture of your mother.”

This comes up more often than you’d think. Military folks who have spent the majority of the last two years deployed in the middle east may still consider themselves domiciled in the house where their civilian clothes are stored. People who travel for work may have apartments in several different cities. These people are not immune from law suits. Car accidents happen, money is owed, and children need to be supported. You have to sue the defendant where they live, hence the question.

People argue about it in domestic relations arguments a lot. Let’s say you decide you can’t live with your husband for five more minutes in your home in Walton County, and you go to stay with your mother in Fulton County until the dust settles. Your husband files for divorce. Would he do it in Fulton County or Walton County? That would all depend on whether or not your staying with your mother is temporary or permanent. Which can be a lot of argument. Did you change your driver’s license? Your library card? Your voters registration?

Of course, if you are involved in a car accident in, say, Washington state, and you live in Georgia, the Washingtonian does not have to fly all the way to Georgia to file suit, even if there isn’t any kind of residence you can point to in Washington. There are things called “Long Arm Statutes” which reach out a metaphorical Long Arm and grab you for jurisdictional purposes and pull you into the place where everything happened. So if you transact business somewhere or ‘engage in tortious conduct’ (this means you did something you could get sued for in Legalese) you can be subject to the courts in a state in which you don’t have a residence or a domicile.

Honestly, there seems to be nothing that the law can’t complicate. This, at least, has a reason for being that way.

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.  It is being offered for informational purposes only.  

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