On August 19, 2020, the Third District Court of Appeal for the State of Florida, in Vicario v. Blanch, reversed the trial court’s order staying a dissolution proceeding in lieu of a dissolution proceeding in Spain. The parties have a complicated timeline of court filings in both jurisdictions. The Husband first filed for divorce in Florida. The parties began litigating, but then he voluntarily dismissed his Florida divorce action and filed a few days later in Spain. Nearly simultaneous to when the Husband filed in Spain, the Wife filed her divorce action in Florida. Ultimately, the Husband served his Spanish divorce action on the Wife a few months before the Wife served her action on the Husband. When the Husband dismissed his Florida suit, the case was closed. With him then serving the Wife first with the newly filed divorce action, the Spanish suit took priority and was first-in-time. Therefore, the trial court deferred to the Spanish court on all issues, but for those related to the children (who had been residing in Florida with their parents for the better part of a decade).
“In general, where courts within one sovereignty have concurrent jurisdiction over substantially similar parties and claims, the court which first exercises its jurisdiction acquires exclusive jurisdiction to proceed with that case.” As a matter of comity, typically one sovereign would then defer to the other sovereign court that first took up the matter.
The Court of Appeal, however, dove deeper into the Wife’s allegation that the Husband was merely forum-shopping. In this family’s situation, their primary residences and property, business interests, and their children were all in Florida. Furthermore, the Husband only requested a divorce in Spain, and that was the only issue to be resolved. In other words, the Spanish courts would not have touched any of the parties’ property, had no authority to address any property outside of Spain (which was most of their property), and the parties had executed both a pre- and post-nuptial agreement that waived maintenance.
“[T]he court in Spain cannot and will not address any matters pertaining to the parties’ assets and liabilities or the Children’s issues and, therefore, cannot be said to be capable of “resolving many of the issues” raised in the Florida case. Because the court in Spain has no jurisdiction beyond its ability to grant a divorce and can do nothing more thereafter, there is little possibility of duplication of the issues between the case below and the case in Spain.” Therefore, the trial court’s stay is reversed. The Wife’s petition for dissolution in Florida can proceed.