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UIFSA’s “Spring Back” Provisions of Continuing, Exclusive Jurisdiction

Laura W. Morgan
Family Law Consulting

By now we are familiar with UIFSA’s provisions concerning continuing, exclusive jurisdiction. Consistent with UIFSA’s policy of “one order, one time, one place,” only one court is authorized to establish or modify a child support order at a time. UIFSA § 205 provides that the tribunal that issues a valid support order retains “continuing, exclusive jurisdiction” (“CEJ”) to modify an existing order, as long as the obligee, the obligor, or the child remains in the issuing state. This provision is the probably the most important provision of UIFSA, for it limits the number of duplicate and conflicting orders, and reduces forum shopping by parents seeking to increase or decrease the amount of child support payments.

Sections 611 and 613 set forth the circumstances under which a second state can modify a support order. Section 613 provides that if the obligor and obligee relocate in the same state, a tribunal in that state can modify the order. Section 611 provides that a second state can modify the support order of another state only if both parties file written consents with the issuing court, or if all of the relevant persons— the obligor, the individual obligee, and the child—have permanently left the issuing state. Moreover, the petitioner cannot be a resident of the forum state. This generally means that a parent must seek modification in the other parent’s state of residence or in the original issuing state. Thus, when both parties have left the issuing state for two different states, that state no longer has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction, and the petitioning party must not be a resident of the forum state.

In essence, the key concept in UIFSA is that of “continuing exclusive jurisdiction.” When a state issues an initial child support order, that state retains “continuing exclusive jurisdiction” to modify the order so long as either party or the children remain in the issuing state. UIFSA §§ 205, 611. The original issuing state loses that continuing exclusive jurisdiction “in very narrowly defined circumstances.” John J. Sampson and Barry Brooks, Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (2001) With Prefatory Notes and Comments (With Still More Unofficial Annotations), 36 Fam. L.Q. 329, 367 (Fall 2002).

Consider this situation, however: A child support order is entered in State A. The mother relocates to state B, and the father relocates to state C. Before either state B or C takes continuing, exclusive jurisdiction, one of the parties, let’s say the mother, moves back to state A. In that case, must the mother petition for modification in state C? Or say the father moved back to state A. In that case, must the father petition for modification in state B?

UIFSA § 611 provides the answer by providing that even when both parties have left the original issuing state, and that state thus loses continuing, exclusive jurisdiction, when one party moves back to that state and no other state has taken continuing, exclusive jurisdiction, then the original issuing state’s continuing, exclusive jurisdiction “springs back” into being.

In the notes to UIFSA, Jack Sampson explains that the 2001 amendment to UIFSA § 611 changed “remains the residence” to “is the residence” to make it clear the original intent of the drafters that when a party returns to the original issuing state and not other state has modified the order, then the original issuing state’s continuing, exclusive jurisdiction is restored. John J. Sampson and Barry J. Brooks, Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (2001) with Prefatory Notes and Comments (with Still More Unofficial Annotations, 36 Fam L.Q. 329, 368 (2002).

The principal of continuing, exclusive jurisdiction “springing back” was applied in Porter v. Porter, 684 A.2d 259 (R.I. 1996), wherein the court applied the continuing, exclusive jurisdiction provision of the Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act (FFCCSOA), 28 U.S.C. §1738B, which are consistent with UIFSA. In that case, the parties were divorced in Rhode Island. The wife left Rhode Island, but then returned four years later. In the interim, no state had modified the Rhode Island support order. The court held that Rhode Island resumed its continuing, exclusive jurisdiction upon the wife’s return:

If, before such a modification occurs [in another state], a contestant or a child returns, the originating state's jurisdiction is again exclusive and no longer subject to modification by another state under the act, save by agreement of the parties, 28 U.S.C. § 1738B(e)(2)(B). Thus, subsection (d) provides for the continuing, exclusive jurisdiction of the originating state if a child or a contestant resides there, whether continuously or upon return, unless a court of another state has modified the order in accordance with subsection (e).

684 A.2d at 263.

These principles have been reiterated without qualification in another case, Peddar v. Peddar, 43 Mass. App. Ct. 192, 683 N.E.2d 1045 (1997). In that case, the parties had divorced in Georgia and the ex-wife subsequently moved to Massachusetts with the children. The ex-Husband remained in Georgia. The ex-Wife then filed a complaint for modification in Massachusetts of the Georgia support judgment. The ex-Husband filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the Probate and Family Court allowed the ex-Husband’s motion to dismiss. The Appeals Court, in affirming the lower court judgment, held that Massachusetts has no subject matter jurisdiction to modify a Georgia order when the obligor still resides in Georgia and Georgia is the original issuing state. Accord Kauffman v. Kauffman, 54 Mass. App. Ct. 1111, 766 N.E.2d 128 (Table, Text in WESTLAW), Unpublished Disposition, 2002 WL 550423 (Mass. App. Ct. April 12, 2002); Mannor v. Mannor, 46 Mass. App. Ct. 46, 703 N.E.2d 716 (1998).

Practitioners who deal in interstate child support cases should be sure they understand not only the concept of continuing, exclusive jurisdiction, but also its adjunct principle of springing back jurisdiction.

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