interstate jurisdiction of courts

Interstate Child Support Jurisdiction

Interstate child support is a term that refers to a situation where the parents of a child reside in different states and a case is brought in one state to either establish paternity, establish an initial child support order, modify a previous child support order, or enforce a child support order from another state.

In 2015, there were roughly 4.0 million cases of interstate child support, involving roughly 7.2 million children. Of these cases, over 3 million were active cases, in which the non-custodial parent owed child support. In 2015, interstate child support cases resulted in collections of more or less  $2.5 billion. The average monthly collection amount was $227 per case. The average monthly support obligation was $543 per case.

This article is intended to provide only general information about a complex topic and cannot be considered legal advice. If you require assistance in a child support case that may involve issues of interstate child support, you should consult with an attorney who is fully familiar with these issues. You will need to know what your rights are in order to make good decisions about how to handle your case. 

attorneys with child support case on steps of courthouse

Sometimes each parent or party has filed simultaneous cases in two different states. With the exception of enforcement of orders, all of these child support cases can involve issues of jurisdiction.

It is important to note that New York Courts will be able to bring enforcement petitions, including petitions to collect arrears, issue withholding orders, wage garnishment orders, and collect payments, in any state by filing enforcement petitions in the state where the father resides.

 By federal law, every state must maintain an agency that assists non-custodial parents who live in other states in many enforcement situations. The agency is required to provide  services which include free lawyers for out-of state custodial parents. 

In New York City, the agency will not take a child support enforcement case for arrears only, unless the agency already has an open child support case. 

What Is “Jurisdiction” In An Interstate Support Case?

In the legal context, “jurisdiction” means the power of the court to make orders. There are two different types of jurisdiction which are treated differently by the law, but many lawyers and even some courts often confuse the two when they just use the word “jurisdiction” without specifying what kind of jurisdiction they are talking about.

Personal Jurisdiction Rules That Apply To Child Support

In any lawsuit or case, the court which is hearing the case is required by law to have personal jurisdiction over the party being sued. If the party resides in the same state as the court or tribunal, personal jurisdiction is established by service of the petition or summons on him or her. Service can also be effected by the party being handed a copy of the papers, or by other means such as mail, email, leaving it with someone else, or publication in a newspaper.

If the person being sued lives in another state, personal jurisdiction can be established pursuant to a so-called “long arm statute”, a law which gives the courts of one state the power to assert personal jurisdiction over people who reside in other states. 

In order to consider a child support order against a father, paternity must first be established. If paternity has  been established,  New York child support courts will have personal jurisdiction in the following situations:

  • Child born in New York State.
  • Father had lived with the mother and child in New York State.
  • Father had sexual relations with the mother in New York State within the period of probable conception.
  • Father caused the mother to go to New York State with the child.
  • Father was served with papers in New York State.
  • Father provided child support to the mother while she and the child were living in New York State.
  • Father consented to the courts of New York State having jurisdiction.

It is important to understand that any objections to personal jurisdiction can be waived. Waiver will be found whenever the person being sued shows up in court and fails to object to the court’s jurisdiction over him. This is true whether or not he knows that by appearing and failing to object he has consented to jurisdiction.

Subject Matter Jurisdictionional Rules That Apply To Support Orders

“Subject matter jurisdiction” is harder to explain. The best way of explaining it is by examples. For example, a person cannot file a personal injury case in criminal court. Likewise, a patent case can only be filed in the federal patent court. In the context of interstate child support cases,  subject matter jurisdiction rules are  governed by federal laws, and the applicable law  is called the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act or “UIFSA”. This statute requires all states to enact their own state laws which substantially conform to the rules of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. 

However, states are free to deviate from the UIFSA in certain respects. For example, states may have different ways of calculating the amount of child support orders, as well as how many years child support must be paid. Most states require child support to be paid up to age 18, or 21, but some actually require child support to be paid beyond age 21 in some circumstances. Once a court of one state issues the initial child support order, child support will be required up to the age set in the state laws of the originating jurisdiction , even if the mother and child or children move to a different state with different rules.

While the UIFSA is a fairly well written statute and not too difficult for attorneys to understand, the rules are still fairly complex for most non-lawyers to fully understand. This blog post will only attempt to give a very general overview and information about the most basic concepts and most common situations. If you have an interstate child support case, you must consult with, and probably hire, an attorney who is well versed in child support and, in particular, in interstate child support.

To understand the UIFSA you should know that it was created in order to resolve situations where the same parties had cases going on simultaneously in different states, or where courts from different states had issued inconsistent orders.

The UIFSA (Uniform Interstate Family Support Act) Federal Laws

In the UIFSA and in most other statutes that deal with child support orders, the person who owes the money is referred to as the obligor, while the person that is supposed to get the money is called the obligee.

For initial orders, the courts of the state where the child has been living for the last 6 months have jurisdiction. If the child is less than 6 months old or the child or children have lived in more than one state during the six month period prior to the date of filing, the rules are more complex, but often the state where the child or children are living at the filing date will have jurisdiction.

Once the originating state (the state that makes the initial child support order) has entered a child support order, that state’s courts will have “continuing exclusive jurisdiction”, which means that no other state courts will have subject matter jurisdiction and cannot make any child support order or modify any child support order until one of the following occurs:

  • Both parents and the child have all left the originating state.
  • The parents agree that the courts of another state will have jurisdiction.
  • The court of the originating state agrees to give up jurisdiction.

Unlike the defense of a lack of personal jurisdiction, the defense of lack of subject matter jurisdiction can  usually be raised at any time, and can even be raised for the first time on appeal. However, as a practical matter, it will generally be difficult, if not impossible, for the person who has been paying child support to get any money back if he or she wins an appeal, which could take a year or more.

Reasons To Contest Jurisdiction In A Child Support Case

You may or may not wish to contest the New York Court’s jurisdiction. In New York State, child support continues to age 21 unless the child has become emancipated, but in many states child support ends at 18. In some states, child support can even last until a “child” is over 21. In Massachusetts, for example,  child support can continue in some situations until age 23.

All states are required to use guideline formulas for calculating the amount of child support orders. In New York State, the formula is applied based upon adjusted gross income of the parents, which includes total income less Medicare taxes, social security taxes, and city taxes, but not income taxes. There is no adjustment for the time that the noncustodial parent spends with the child or children. 

Other states may allow deductions for income taxes,  may have different guidelines, and may adjust the formula based upon the percentage of time that the child spends with each parent. On the other hand, New York State has a cap for the basic child support which, at the time of this blog post, was $154,000 of the combined adjusted gross income of both parents. Other states may have no cap.

If the case is a modification case, the rules that New York courts apply may also be different from the rules for child support modification that courts from other states may apply. 

Additionally, in New York, a child support order will take effect as of the filing date of the petition, and NY courts will almost never require payment of child support for any period of time prior to the filing date of the child support order. Therefore, if the New York Courts dismiss a case based upon lack of jurisdiction, the petitioner will have to file a new petition. If the new petition is filed in New York State, the child support order will only go back to the filing date on the second petition. .

Finally, legal fees charged by child support lawyers may be higher or lower in other states. Legal fees in New York City are particularly high (however, I charge only $200 an hour).

Courts Must Also Have Jurisdiction To Enter Paternity Orders

As a general matter, courts must first establish paternity (now called “parentage” in New York State) before a child support order can be entered against a parent. In New York, paternity or parentage is established if the child is a child of the marriage, if the parents signed an acknowledgement of paternity ( usually at the hospital), or if a court of any state has already established an order of filiation. 

New York Courts will also honor most orders from the courts of other nations, including paternity orders, as long as these nations honor New York orders. 

However, the same rules of personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction apply to paternity orders. NY Courts should not issue any temporary orders, including child support orders, if paternity has not been established. 

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