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Timing Your Domicile: Preparing for Full-Time RV Life

Timing Your Domicile

Time and time again, I am asked the question, “What is the required amount of time I need to stay in my new state to change my domicile?”

Forgive me for sounding like a lawyer, but it depends. Know one thing: Physical presence alone is not sufficient to establish a new domicile. To determine whether an individual sufficiently established domicile, a court will look at both physical presence and one’s intent to acquire a new domicile. It is not a question of the quantity of time, but rather a question of the quality of time spent in your new state.

Absent a statutory or constitutional requirement, most states generally do not require a set number of days to establish domicile. Any period of residence is sufficient provided that the requisite intent is there. That means when you choose to establish your new domicile, make sure your intent is to make your new state your home, a place where you plan to permanently return. If one has this intent, courts have suggested that one day, even one moment, could be considered sufficient. I’ll share a case with you where one day was sufficient for a person to establish her domicile in a new state.

“…when you choose to establish your new domicile, make sure your intent is to make your new state your home, a place where you plan to permanently return.”

Perito v. Perito(1) is the divorce case of Ruth and Tom Perito after a 25-year marriage. During the entire length of their marriage, the couple lived in New York. Ruth filed for divorce in New York but the New York court dismissed the case finding that Ruth did not satisfy the requirements of divorce in that state. After her case was dismissed in New York, Ruth spoke with attorneys from Nevada and Alaska. Ruth went to Alaska with her friend, bringing some belongings but leaving others in New York. She did not know anyone in Alaska except the attorney she called.

Once they arrived, Ruth and her friend walked around Anchorage and Ruth liked what she saw. Ruth told her friend that she “felt sure this was the place she wanted to be.” The next day, she filed for divorce in Alaska. Ruth then went about renting an apartment month-to-month, found a job, regis-tered to vote and obtained an Alaska driver license.

Timing Your Domicile - Alaska

Now, Tom had never been to Alaska. Tom filed a motion to dismiss the case on the basis that Ruth was not an Alaska resident when she filed the case. The Supreme Court of Alaska concluded that Ruth’s case did not have to be dismissed because Ruth satisfied domicile requirements. She had the presence and the intent to remain permanently in Alaska and, therefore, she was an Alaska resident.

The lower court based its decision on the testimony of Ruth and her friend, Lois. Ruth testified that she decided to stay in Alaska the day she arrived because she was impressed by the city and the friendly people. She felt strongly that Alaska was a place where she could live, work and be happy. Ruth also testified that she intended to remain in Alaska indefinitely. Lois testified that she heard Ruth express the same sentiment.

Tom contended that other evidence should have persuaded the court to find that Ruth was not a resident of Alaska. Tom pointed to the fact that Ruth did not quit her job in New York when she came to Alaska, but rather took a one-year leave. He also pointed out that, at the time Ruth filed the case (one day after her arrival), she maintained two bank accounts in New York, a safe deposit box, owned two cars and a boat in New York and had a close relationship with her parents who lived there.

“Note that the court looked closely at her later actions, which followed up on her intent to remain permanently in Alaska. The actions she took after changing her domicile served to add credibility to her testimony.”

The Alaska Supreme Court noted that within a few months of her move to Alaska, Ruth closed the accounts, emptied the safe deposit box, transferred the cars to her daughters and made a trip to New York to visit her family. She also obtained a library card, check cashing card at a local supermarket and applied for credit cards at two local department stores. While these actions occurred after Ruth filed her case, these actions “could have been relevant if they helped the judge shed light on or interpret Ruth’s subjective intent on the date she filed” her case.

Ruth had only been in Alaska one day before she filed her case. She formed her intent to make Alaska her home on her walk the day she arrived. Note that the court looked closely at her later actions, which followed up on her intent to remain permanently in Alaska. The actions she took after changing her domicile served to add credibility to her testimony. If she had returned to New York or failed to close her accounts and conclude her life in New York, would a judge have believed her testimony?

Alaska Supreme Court

I chose to share this case with you because Ruth’s path to establishing domicile is similar to a lot of full-time RVers. It highlights the importance of having all the factors on your side. Ruth took steps that manifested the intent she formed in one day. Absent her later actions, the court could have easily taken Tom’s side and decided that Ruth did not sufficiently establish domicile in Alaska. Now, unlike some full-time RVers who establish new domicile and then hit the road, Ruth maintained her physical presence in Alaska. So for those who are not physically present all the time, it becomes that much more important to show that any trips away from the state are only temporary and that you are establishing and maintaining your connections in your new state.

Remember Ruth’s story; regardless of the length of time you are in your new state, clearly form your intent and then take actions to create manifestations of your intent. 

(1) Perito v. Perito, 756 P.2d 895 (AK 1988).

For more information about domicile issues, please contact:

Susie Adams at Loring & Associates, PLLC
info@loringlaw.com
www.loringlaw.com
800-260-1615

Miri Kim Wakuta

Author

Miri Kim Wakuta

Miri Kim Wakuta is a California-licensed attorney and a former attorney with Loring & Associates. Through her time as a litigator, she gained extensive trial experience. Her experience ranges from immigration, bankruptcy, civil, estate planning and child dependency law. She discovered her fascination with domicile issues arguing jurisdiction and venue issues in court. Photo by Angelo Narvaez

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