When spouses divorce, they go their own separate ways. Sometimes, they go a long way. California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently explained that moving to another state can raise jurisdictional issues in the event that a spouse wants to enforce or modify the terms of a support order entered in The Golden State.
Husband and Wife were living in San Diego when they divorced in 2008. In a court order dissolving the marriage, a trial judge ordered Husband to pay wife $700 per month in child support for their son. Wife and the child later moved to Texas, while Husband then relocated to Nevada. Five years later, Husband asked the same court to reduce the child support obligation, saying that his income had declined since the order was issued. Wife opposed the request, arguing that the trial court no longer had jurisdiction over the matter because none of the parties resided in California.
The trial court disagreed. It held that it retained jurisdiction over the matter until another state assumed jurisdiction. Although the court seemed to imply that it was Husband’s duty to transfer jurisdiction elsewhere by registering the child support order in Texas, in the meantime it said “you don’t leave a party without a forum.” The trial judge reduced the support order to just over $500 per month.
Reversing the decision on appeal, the Fourth District explained that the state no longer had jurisdiction over the matter because none of the parties lived in California. As the Court explained, California and every other state in the country has adopted the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. “Under UIFSA, a court that makes a valid child support order retains exclusive jurisdiction to modify the order as long as the requirements for continuing, exclusive jurisdiction remain fulfilled,” the Court said, adding that the statute has been codified in the state under Family Code Section 4909. “The court of another state may enforce a child support order registered in that state, but may not modify it unless the decree state has lost its continuing, exclusive jurisdiction.”
One of the central requirements of that exclusive jurisdiction, the Court continued, is that one of the parents or one of the children who benefits from the order remains a resident in the state. That wasn’t the case here, so the Court said California no longer had jurisdiction to alter the order under the UIFSA.
As to where the parties should turn to resolve disputes, the Court didn’t identify a particular state, but Texas appears to be the most likely candidate. The Court noted that the UIFSA provides that a party seeking to modify or enforce a support award should register the order in a state that has jurisdiction over the other party, in this case Wife.
Issues like this are increasingly common in our mobile society. If you’re considering seeking a divorce in California or looking to enforce or modify a child support award, contact San Jose divorce lawyer John S. Yohanan. With more than 30 years of experience, Mr. Yohanan is an accomplished family law attorney who has helped a number of clients resolve separation date and other issues on optimal terms. Call our office at (408)297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.