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What is Habitual Residence?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 05 December 2016
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Habitual residence is a concept in the law which is used to refer to the place in which a person is accustomed to living. It is related to domicile, except that the standards for determining habitual residence are somewhat looser in nature. Determinations of habitual residence can be important for cases in which there is some question about which court has jurisdiction over a situation or how a case should be resolved fairly and equitably.

Someone's habitual residence is the place that person is acclimated to. The person has connections such as school, work, banking, and social networks in that place. For a child, for example, it would be the home maintained by the child's parents, as this environment is familiar for the child and the child has an established presence there. Likewise, for an adult, this is the place where the adult has developed ties and connections to the community.

Someone can abandon a habitual residence by relocating, but the place the person relocates to does not automatically become a new habitual residence. Time is needed to make connections such as establishing a job, signing up at a school, opening accounts with utilities, and so forth. It may take as little as a month to settle in, or it may take longer. Domicile, by contrast, is focused on future intent as well as present connections.

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In cases where there is a conflict of law, the question of habitual residence can become important. For example, if two people are married in one county and wish to divorce in another, when they file the divorce application, they would need to prove that they are filing in an appropriate location. If they are filing in a different county because they think it will be easier, their filing may be rejected, and they will be asked to file in the county of their habitual residence. The court can determine that it does not have jurisdiction in the case and is not the right venue to hear the divorce petition.

Another situation in which habitual residence can become an issue is in child custody disputes. A court may rule that a child should stay in her or his place of habitual residence rather than being uprooted to accompany a parent to a new location. This is done in the interests of providing the child with a more stable home life during a separation or divorce.

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