Interstate Issues: Child Support Enforcement

Walters Gilbreath, PLLC

Many child custody cases involve multiple states because many divorces involve children. Since it is quite common for ex-spouses to move to another state at the conclusion of a divorce, you can see why it can become an issue for a parent seeking to enforce child support. Can you enforce a child support order that you got from Texas if the paying party moves to another state? What happens to Texas’ power over the parties that it had?

The UCCJEA

Child custody cases that involve interstate issues will typically fall under the UCCJEA. The UCCJEA is an acronym for the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. We will call it “UCCJEA” for simplicity. The UCCJEA is a separate set of uniform laws that states have enacted to avoid courts competing for jurisdiction in child custody cases. The UCCJEA also provides the courts with a way of enforcing the orders of another state so that parties cannot simply “forum shop”. Forum shopping is when parties purposely choose a specific state to litigate issues because of the favorable law. It is a way to avoid enforcement of a prior order from a different state. However, as I’ve said, the UCCJEA jurisdiction eliminates this problem.

So again I ask you, what will happen to the court’s power (that originally issued the order) when one party moves out of state?

A: The court that originally signed off on the prior order(s) that determined custody of the child would keep its exclusive and continuing jurisdiction or power over any and all issues arising out of the custody of the child described in the prior order. If the court still has jurisdiction over the case, that state can enforce that order if one parent remains in the state. If both parties have relocated to another state, however, the new state will have to enforce the prior state’s order. The enforcement action should be filed in the new state.

What is a Child’s “Home State”?

The UCCJEA jurisdiction enables the court that decided on the prior case to have continuing and exclusive jurisdiction for child custody cases that take place in the child’s “home state”. The child’s home state is not just determined by where the child lives at the time that the suit is filed. Instead, the home state of the child will be determined by the state that the child has lived for six consecutive months immediately prior to the case being filed. If the child is an infant, the home state will be determined by where the child has lived for the entirety of his or her life (i.e. since birth). If you have had the child for at least six consecutive months and you want to fight for custody (or to change it), you should be sure that the child continues to live with you until after the suit is initiated.

When is the Originating State No Longer Able to Exercise Jurisdiction?

  1. One reason that the state that signed the order would lose jurisdiction is if all of the parties have relocated to a different state. If the child and both conservators (i.e. parents) move outside of the state that granted the order, that state would no longer have personal jurisdiction;
  2. Another way that the court could lose jurisdiction over the case is if the court determines that neither the child, the child and one parent, nor the child and a person acting as a parent has any significant connection with the state that signed the order; and
  3. A substantial amount of evidence is no longer available in that original state concerning the child’s health, personal relationships, protection, training, etc.

If a parent would like to move the case to a new state, that party may file a suit in the state that the child currently resided to request that the prior state court release jurisdiction to the new state’s court (If the UCCJEA applies).

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