Personal Service and Jurisdiction

By Attorney Gregg Herman
December 26, 2012

Last week, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals issued a decision, Montalvo v. U.S. Title and Closing Services, LLC, which held that personal service was required for personal jurisdiction in divorce.  Today, my article critiquing this case appears in the online edition of the Wisconsin Law Journal.

Clearly, the court of appeals was not enamored with the conduct of the title company (UST) in this case.  At the end of the opinion, the court stated at ¶23:  Any claim that UST relied on the divorce judgment is belied by their own documents.  The lack of candor with the circuit court and this court which the argument demonstrates is at the very least unfortunate.

For any non-lawyers reading this, you never want a court to term your conduct “unfortunate.”  That’s lawyer talk for “bad.”  Sort of like when diplomats state that their discussion was “frank.”

While this type of fact pattern is rare (a disappearing spouse who owns real property) this case can create substantial hardship.  It has always been my understanding that personal jurisdiction exists if the party has substantial contacts with the issuing state.  And, once personal jurisdiction exists, the court can take any action it deems appropriate over support and property division.

This opinion seems to hold that personal service is required, even if the spouse had substantial contacts in the state and the requirements for service by publication were met.

Read the decision and my article and let me know if you think if that is still the law (or ever was…).

Attorney Gregg Herman is a founding partner of Loeb & Herman S.C. in Milwaukee, WI. He practices family law exclusively, and can be reached via e-mail or by calling (414) 272-5632.