Debtors can claim Florida’s asset exemptions only if they are domiciled in Florida. People sometimes confuse the term “domicile” with the term “residence.” A person is a resident of any place where he resides and keeps property. A person may be a resident of more than one state; some people have second and third homes in several states. A person is domiciled in his permanent home and primary residence. A person can be domiciled only in one state.
In any event, there has be a long-standing legal rule that an alien immigrant cannot claim Florida residency unless and until the immigrant obtains a “green card.” The green card signifies permissions to permanently reside in the United States. Until then, if an immigrant cannot legally permanently reside in the country he cannot permanently reside in Florida. Logically, an immigrant who cannot permanently reside in Florida he cannot be domiciled in Florida because domicile requires an intent to remain in Florida permanently. The green card is the immigrant’s admission ticket for Florida exemptions.
A recent bankruptcy court decision has ruled differently. The court ruled that foreign debtors may declare Florida domicile and get Florida exemptions before they receive green card status. In this case, the bankruptcy debtors had lived in Florida for five years, had pending applications for political asylum, and they intended to stay permanently in Florida. The court rejected green card status as a bright-line rule for establishing domicile in Florida. The court said that it should consider facts and circumstances beyond the debtor’s legal immigration status. 2019 WL 1028519
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