Timing Your Domicile: Preparing for Full-Time RV Life

Many full-time RVers who are mostly focused (rightfully so) on their next adventure often reach out to ask how long it takes to establish a new domicile.  As with most seemingly simple questions, a legal response is never as straightforward, and here, it is no different. The answer: it depends on the circumstances.

In most circumstances, there is not a set time requirement of “X” number of days or weeks that you must be in a state before you can establish a new domicile.[i]  However, when establishing a new one, you must first abandon your current domicile and then work to establish a new one. 

Although there is no universal definition, the general parameters of establishing domicile are: 1) a physical presence, and 2) a truthful, concurrent, intent of making the new state your permanent place of abode—a place when absent, one intends to return.   

When analyzing a person’s intent to establish a new domicile, it is evaluated on a case-by-case basis considering the facts in each circumstance.  Solely relying on the physical presence in the state—the number of days, weeks, or months spent in a state—to prove domicile is a misplaced notion and could lead to a false sense of satisfaction. 

To further illustrate this point, let’s turn to the frozen north to examine two cases reaching seemingly conflicting outcomes—one from Alaska and the other from Minnesota.  In 1988, the Alaska Supreme Court reviewed the appeal of a divorce to determine if the applicant for the divorce, Ruth Perito, had properly filed for divorce in Alaska the day after she arrived in the state.[ii]  In analyzing the requirement for jurisdiction in the matter, the Alaska Supreme Court analyzed Mrs. Perito’s domicile the day she filed the lawsuit.  The court noted that the proper inquiry for domicile was to examine her physical presence in the state, along with her intent to remain in Alaska indefinitely, and in this instance, domicile in the state was the prerequisite for filing a divorce action here.  The court relied upon the evidence provided: testimony from Mrs. Perito and her friend that the day she entered the state of Alaska was the day that she decided to make Alaska her home. The next day, she filed for divorce in Superior Court of Alaska.  Ultimately, the court found that Mrs. Perito’s physical presence in the state for one day, coupled with her intent to stay, was sufficient to provide legal domicile, which allowed her to file a petition for divorce in the state one day after her arrival.  In a footnote, the court also detailed the subsequent actions taken by Mrs. Perito that further evidenced her intent on Day One to remain in Alaska;  namely, in the months that followed, Ms. Perito obtained a library card, a check cashing card at a local supermarket, applied for credit cards at two local department stores, registered to vote, and obtained a driver’s license, all while closing her bank accounts in her former state of domicile.  These facts further supported her testimony that on Day One, it was her intent to make Alaska her permanent place of abode.  Thus, the court found that Mrs. Perito was domiciled in Alaska after being present in the state for only one day.

On the other hand, a 2009 Minnesota Supreme Court case affirmed a finding that a few trips and at least 10 days in the state of South Dakota were insufficient for a couple to establish a new domicile outside the state of Minnesota for tax purposes.[iii]  The court examined the parameters of domicile noted above and affirmed the tax court’s conclusion that there was no physical presence sufficient in South Dakota to demonstrate that the Sanchezes had intended to make their home in South Dakota and integrate their lives into the community.  The record indicated that after going to South Dakota for about a week to obtain a mailing address and drivers’ licenses, the couple went on to travel and never returned to South Dakota and the published record did not indicate any additional ties established to the new community made by the couple.  The court found that even though the couple had sold their home in Minnesota, they had never established a new domicile in South Dakota.

Rather than only counting the number days, weeks, or months spent in a state, the analysis of domicile involves balancing many factors, taking into account not just a number of days, but focusing on the quality of time spent in your new home state. 

Although the outcome of these cases was different, the underlying analysis of weighing a balance of factors to determine domicile was similar.  The Minnesota court record seemed scant on evidence to support a continued intent by the Sanchez family to create a new domicile in South Dakota; yet the Alaska court record provided numerous examples that evidenced the intent espoused by Mrs. Perito.  Even though the actual intent of creating a new domicile may have been the same in both instances, in one case there was sufficient evidence to reinforce the stated intent.  In either situation, the circumstances created some ambiguity about an established domicile.

For individuals who travel often, it is imperative to spend quality time in any new state of domicile, creating lasting social and professional connections to the state that will provide evidence of one’s intent to domicile in the new state. 

[i] For particular purposes, such as qualifying for in state tuition, there may be prescribed statutory residency requirements of a particular length of stay before you may become eligible to take advantage of certain benefits (see e.g., Texas Education Code § 54.052).

[ii] Perito v. Perito, 756 P.2d 895 (AK 1988).

[iii] See Sanchez v. Commissioner of Revenue, 770 N.W.2d 523 (Minn. 2009). 

The information contained in this post is for educational purposes and is not intended as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.  You are advised to seek legal advice and counsel from a licensed attorney or certified professional in your state regarding any specific legal questions or matters.

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Samuel L. Burke

Samuel L. Burke is an attorney licensed in Texas and a partner of East Texas Legal, P.L.L.C. 

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