The Nevada Supreme Court will soon rule on a jurisdiction matter that could have significant impact upon the county and the way lawyers practice law here. The issue is how much jurisdiction does the family law court system have?
The Family Court system is a statutory created system designed to address civil disputes that involve a married couple or children. It is not a court of general jurisdiction. (That means you cannot bring a breach of contract action before the Family Court.)
The appeal arises from default judgment in property dispute between Amit Malik and Dlinn Landreth, who lived together in Las Vegas for four years. They were not married.
In September 2006, Malik filed an action in Clark County Family Court, seeking half the equity in a local home, half of other property acquired during the relationship and all of his personal property. (Nevada is a community property state and upon divorce all marital assets and liabilities generated during the marriage are to be split evenly.)
Landreth failed to file a timely answer and Malik filed a default judgment. Landreth moved to set the default aside, but a family court judge denied her motion and awarded Malik half the equity and granted his other requests.
Landreth appealed the decision on the basis of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that civil disputes that don’t involve a married couple or children should be heard in the civil division not the family courts.
There is no intermediate appellate court in Nevada; the Nevada Supreme Court hears all appeals. Family Law practitioners are arguing that the family court does have special jurisdiction over family law but retain general jurisdiction authority.
Justice Michael Douglas wrote the first majority opinion for the Court and agreed with Landreth’s arguments. Justice Douglas wrote that the court had limited jurisdiction because its authority is derived from state law and as such did not enjoy the general jurisdiction authority that Civil Division Judges enjoy. This is because the Civil Division Judges authority is based in the Nevada Constitution.
Oral Arguments were heard before the entire Nevada Supreme Court on Monday October 4, 2010. The Court will issue a ruling sometime in the future.