Britney Spears, Anna Nicole, You: What Courts Control?

Posted on Apr 9, 2007 in Celebrity Justice

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Britney Spears and Kevin Federline finalized their divorce settlement in California last week – there won’t be a big courtroom melodrama for the press. Instead, we’re hearing about Britney going to LA Laker games and shopping at Staples on the afternoon of Easter Sunday. (Britney Spears’ headgear (hats, wigs) is getting lots of airtime these days, too.)

Meanwhile, Anna Nicole Smith’s name remains in the headlines – tomorrow, Larry Birkhead, Howard K. Stern, and Virgie Authur will appear before a judge in a Bahamian courtroom, as the DNA test results are announced for Dannielynn, Anna Nicole’s 7 month old daughter. The California court proceeding filed by Larry Birkhead (and his lawyer Debra Opri) had no effect: Dannielynn’s parentage is being decided under the law of the Bahamas.

So, why did the California courts control (or in legalese, “have jurisdiction over”) the Britney Spears – Kevin Federline divorce, but not over the Anna Nicole Smith – Howard K. Stern – Larry Birkhead paternity fight? Why does everyone have to go to the Bahamas in that case?

And, the bigger question: what courts have control over you, and when?

As with everything in law, it can become complicated: the short answer is in the legal terms “domicile” and “residence.” Courts have power that is limited in many ways. One of those ways is by geography: every court has a boundary, which can be drawn on a map. Outside of those lines, it can do nothing.

You come under the control of a court by entering its boundaries. Companies that come into your state to sell a product enter the boundary, and no matter how far away their plant or home office, your local court has power over them. If the product hurts you, then you can file a lawsuit in your local courthouse. Similarly, if you travel inside a court’s boundary line, you’re under its control. Get drunk and disorderly on Bourbon Street, the local court can lock you up for the night.

Sometimes, courts respect each other’s work. Get married in Vegas, your marriage is respected in New Jersey. You don’t have to get married again, every time you cross a state line.

Sometimes, they don’t. Anna Nicole Smith had left California and established legal residency in the Bahamas. She wasn’t living within the boundaries of the California court, and her daughter had never, ever been to California. Anna Nicole changed her legal “residence” or “domicile,” not only to another state, but another country.

Dannielynn’s DNA challenge in LA, filed by Birkhead, was not successful. Filing another paternity action in the Bahamas? Larry Birkhead’s in the right courtroom now.

What does this mean for you? As you vacation, move, buy products, or toy with the idea of marriage or divorce, adoption or paternity, something to consider is the legal ramifications of your choice. Just because you live in Louisiana does not mean that other laws, sometimes from far-away jurisdictions, may not impact you. Before you make any major life decisions, it’s important to know what courts — and what laws — will have control over you.

If you have any questions or concerns about jurisdiction, please feel free to contact me at info@bloomlegal.com.

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