The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA)

Instructor: Kenneth Poortvliet

Kenneth has a JD, practiced law for over 10 years, and has taught criminal justice courses as a full-time instructor.

When parents split up and a child moves to a different state, a question arises regarding which state's child support laws apply. In this lesson, we will learn how the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act addresses that issue.

Show Me the Money!

Carla went to court to get child support for her child from her ex-husband, Jim. The court awarded her $1,000 a month, which was taken from Jim's paycheck and sent to Carla. Jim was upset about the amount, so he quit that job and got a new one in a different state. When his new company got the original court order for child support, they said they couldn't honor it because it wasn't from a local judge. Her lawyer told her that she needed to go to that state and get a new child support order.

Does this seem right? What if the new state is Alaska or Hawaii? Should she be forced to travel that far? What if the new judge denies her support or enters a much lower amount? These issues came up regularly in interstate child support cases and were finally addressed in the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), which was first drafted in 1992 and has been updated a few times since then.

Who Can Order Child Support?

For a court to issue a valid child support order, that court must have jurisdiction, which is the legal authority to hear a particular case. This authority comes from each state's laws and is conferred upon particular courts in that state. For example, a state could pass a law that gives all district courts jurisdiction over family law cases.

Once jurisdiction exists and a court of authority hears a case on any child custody or support issue, then it has original jurisdiction, which means that the court has exclusive and continuing jurisdiction to hear any case involving child custody or support for that child. Original jurisdiction continues for all proceedings involving support or custody until that court issues an order to give another court jurisdiction.

Today, jurisdiction in a child custody or support case is governed by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which was first drafted in 1997 and has also been modified over time. This is a uniform law that 49 states have adopted and that requires the following for a state to have original jurisdiction:

  1. The child has resided in the home state (state where child is seeking jurisdiction) for at least six months preceding the filing of the custody suit.
  2. No other state has original jurisdiction.
  3. All states that have the authority for original jurisdiction have declined jurisdiction, stating that the home state is a more appropriate place for jurisdiction.

Things Change. Then What?

It used to be that problems arose when one parent and/or the child left the state. Since each state had their own laws on jurisdiction, support and enforcement, this often led to the issuance of multiple orders, leaving the parties and the court unsure of which order to follow. After the UISFA was drafted and adopted (passed by the legislature) in all 50 states, many of these issues were addressed as the laws became more uniform.

How Does it Work?

Today, the UIFSA follows the rules for original jurisdiction found in the UCCJEA. The place with original jurisdiction then becomes the home state for the purposes of child support. The UIFSA requires (in most cases) that a valid support order from the home state is registered in the non-home state. This means that a copy of the support order is filed with the new state's court, and then the court in the new state can enforce that order as if it had original jurisdiction.

For example, if Jim had gone to Alaska, Carla wouldn't need to fly there, get a local attorney and get a whole new support order. Under the UIFSA, she can file a copy of the court order from their home state with the Alaska court, and then Alaska can enforce the child support against Jim.

Modification

What if a support order needs to be modified? The UIFSA allows for modification of a registered order in a new state under a three circumstances:

  1. The parties are now all in the same state, which is other than the home state.
  2. If both the child and the parent getting the support payment move out of the home state and into the state where the support payer lives.
  3. Both parties agree to the modification.

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