Enforcing Child Support When the Other Parent Leaves the State
This month is our first reader request! An April article on child support recently appeared on the New River Valley Macaroni Kid Facebook page. Readers had questions: When a Virginian court decides that the other parent owes support, can they avoid paying just by leaving Virginia? How do you get child support enforcement in other jurisdictions? In this article, we’ll discuss the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act and how it functions to get your children the support they deserve.
The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act
The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) was first adopted in Virginia in 1994. Lawmakers recognized that children could not get the support to which they were entitled if the obligor parent was able to run away from their responsibilities. UIFSA requires each state to respect valid support orders from other states. The law also provides uniform rules for states to use in recognizing and enforcing valid child support orders from other jurisdictions. Congress required all states to adopt the 2008 version of the Act as part of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act. Now, you can enforce your child support order anywhere in the United States.
Continuing, Exclusive Jurisdiction
To avoid confusion about which order governed, UIFSA creates “continuing, exclusive jurisdiction” over support matters. The state that issues the “controlling order” is the only one that has the power to modify the order so long as at least one of the parties, or the child, continues to live there. Courts determine which state issued the “controlling order” by considering a series of factors:
- Orders from jurisdictions in which a party or the child reside control over orders from jurisdictions from which all parties and children have moved.
- An order from the child’s home state controls over other orders from the parties’ jurisdictions.
- If none of these orders are available, the court determining control issues a new order, which becomes the controlling order.
The practical effect of the continuing exclusive jurisdiction is to prevent to forum shopping. The obligor parent can’t run away from their obligation by moving to a more favorable jurisdiction.
Advantages for Custodial Parents
The beauty of UIFSA is that enforcement can usually be accomplished without having to take a trip out to the other parent’s home state. Under UIFSA, evidence that would normally be excluded as hearsay can be considered so long it is issued under penalty of perjury. Copies of bills for paternity testing, pre- and post-natal care are all admissible as evidence of the costs. Information for the case may be transmitted by fax or email. Even better, non-residents can be deposed or testify remotely. So long as you follow the rules when filing for enforcement, you will not have to appear in the other state to enforce the order. Make sure you use the proper forms, or hire an attorney who understands the applicable filing rules.
Registering Your Order
The most formal means of out-of-state recognition of a support order is registration. By this process, you file the order in the court of the obligor’s state. You may also provide claim back child support by filing a sworn statement of any arrearages owed. Make sure to check your work carefully when claiming arrearages: once accepted, your calculation is final and cannot be modified. When filing, you must be sure to notify the obligor parent of your intent to register the order. At that point, s/he has twenty days to contest its validity.
Once a support order is registered in another state, it becomes enforceable. This does not mean that it will be enforced. Additional filings may be necessary to compel payment.
Enforcing Your Order
You have options in enforcing a child-support order. If you know where the obligor parent works, you may send the income-withholding order directly to their employer. The law requires the employer to comply with your order so long as it is “regular on its face.” If the obligor parent wishes to contest the order, they must register the order in their employer’s jurisdiction. Then, they must file a challenge. Valid challenges can include mistakes of fact or contesting the order’s authority as the controlling order. Complaints about the amount of support ordered or visitation/custody matters are not appropriate in a UIFSA hearing.
You may also send your support order to the child support enforcement agency in the obligor parent’s state. They may begin enforcement immediately unless the obligor challenges the order. In that case, the challenge would follow the same process described above.
Which option is best for you? It’s going to depend on the unique circumstances of your case. New River Law can provide guidance and advice to help you ensure that your children are provided for by both parents.