Jurisdiction grants a court the authority to make legal decisions and judgments. Jurisdiction is most frequently obtained by residency. Residency is required to file a divorce in Pennsylvania. Under Pennsylvania law, specifically 23 Pa. C.S. 3104(b), one of the parties to the divorce action must have been a bona fide resident of Pennsylvania for at least six months prior to the commencement of the divorce. Bona fide residence is defined as actual residence with domiciliary intent. Domicile denotes the place where a person has his or her true, fixed, permanent home with the intention of returning after any absence. In other words, where an individual sleeps, takes their meals, receives mail, and stores personal possession. Members of the military are considered to be residents of their home state even if they are stationed elsewhere at the time a divorce is commenced. The home state would be the state where they intend to return to and reside in following any term of active duty.

Jurisdiction for custody matters in Pennsylvania also has a six (6) month residency requirement. Per the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, jurisdiction is proper in the home county of the child which is where the child has resided for at least six months prior to commencement of the action. Temporary absences from the county do not negate residency for the purposes of jurisdiction. In emergency situations, the six (6) month residency requirement may be set aside. Temporary emergency jurisdiction may be exercised if the child is in the jurisdiction at the time and it is necessary to make an immediate determination to ensure the child’s safety. For example, an emergency order may be entered if a child has been abandoned, or is subject to mistreatment or abuse. An emergency order would only be valid until a court with jurisdiction as the home state of the child makes a determination.