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Missouri same-sex divorce case goes back to lower court

Court procedure can sometimes be maddening to participants. Court rules tend to be very technical and in some cases draconian. If you have a 30-day deadline to respond to a motion and you file your response on the 31st day, your case could be dismissed and your right to litigate the matter permanently ended.

A fundamental question for any court when presented with a case is whether it has subject matter jurisdiction. This means, is this a type of case the court is authorized to hear. If a court does not have subject matter jurisdiction, the case would presumably have to be dismissed and, if possible, refilled in a court with proper jurisdiction.

A case involving same-sex marriage, which is banned in Missouri by a constitutional amendment, was dismissed by a circuit court last year, when the court determined that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

The parties appealed and the Missouri Supreme Court issued a short, technical ruling, ordering the matter back to the circuit court.

The Court noted that the grant of subject matter jurisdiction to the circuit courts is broad, and even if the court were to decide that it could not issue a dissolution of marriage to the parties because same-sex marriage is banned in Missouri, the court would still have had jurisdiction to hear the case to decide that it cannot grant the dissolution.

Because the initial case was dismissed at such an early stage of the proceeding, the Missouri Supreme Court had little choice but to return it to the lower court.

Even if the Court had not placed on hold any case dealing with same-sex marriage until the U.S. Supreme Court decides the matter in June, this case lacked any ruling by the lower court beyond that it lacked jurisdiction, and therefore would have been an inappropriate case from which to issue a broader ruling.

Stltoday.com, "Missouri Supreme Court sends same-sex divorce case back to lower court," Doug Moore, February 10, 2015

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