Enforcing child support across state lines is an important issue, as parents and children freely move from state to state. Not only, is it an extremely important issue for the parent awarded support, but also for local, state, and even federal agencies who end up providing services that they might not have to if child support were paid. Fortunately, the state and federal governments have recognized the problems associated with enforcement and have passed laws to address the issue. This article addresses the principal laws governing the enforcement of child support across state lines, namely the:
- Uniform Interstate Family Support Act
- Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act
- Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act
- Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act
Uniform Interstate Family Support Act
The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), 9 U.L.A. 255 was drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 1992, and approved by the American Bar Association on February 9, 1993. States were required to adopt the UIFSA by 1998 under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (42 U.S.C. § 666) in 1996. The Personal Responsibility Act required each State to have laws consistent with its provisions. These provisions include:
- Procedures for withholding income
- Procedures that would allow for withholding income without need for judicial or administrative hearing
- Expedited procedures for establishing paternity
- Expedited procedures for establishing, modifying and enforcing support obligations
- Procedures for attaching tax refund payments
- Procedures to establish liens against real and personal property
- Procedures to report arrearages to credit bureaus
The Personal Responsibility Act also required the enactment of laws to avoid fraudulent transfers to avoid paying child support. These include:
- the Uniform Fraudulent Conveyance Act of 1981;
- the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act of 1984; or
- other similar laws; and
- procedures to void fraudulent transfers.
In order to enforce an interstate child support order through the UIFSA some preliminary steps must be taken. The offending parent must be located and paternity must be established.
The location of the offending parent has been made easier under the UIFSA. As part of the states adoption of the UIFSA, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act required access to all relevant information and records available for the creation and expansion of databases to locate individuals for the purpose of paying child support. Because of this access, the states and the federal government can use information from the Social Security Administration; the state motor vehicle department; and any other relevant records for purposes of enforcing child support orders. (45 CFR 302.35). States and the Federal Locator Services have been established to find individuals and to determine sources of income.
Once the offending parent is located, the UIFSA requires that paternity be established. There are exceptions for rape and incest, but in most cases, paternity must be established before a child support order will be enforced. Paternity can be established voluntarily or by court ordered genetic testing. The state is required to pay for such testing, but can recoup monies for tests with a negative result. UIFSA allows for expedited paternity testing without the necessity of an order from a judge or administrative tribunal.
Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act
The UIFSA provided a frame work for states to follow in the uniform administration of child support. However, there were still issues with enforcing support orders across state lines. It was all too easy for a noncustodial parent to relocate to another state that would not enforce the order. To combat this problem, Congress enacted the Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act (28 U.S.C. § 1738B) in 1994.
The FFCCSOA provides that each State shall enforce the child support order of another State provided that it meets the terms of the Act. The Act requires:
- The child to be under age 18 or if over 18 to have a child support order issued for them.
- The child to have resided for 6 months or more in the state where the petition for child support is filed.
- The child support order be a judgment, decree or order of a court requiring payment.
The support order itself must meet the following criteria to be judged consistent with the Act.
- The order is made pursuant the terms of the Act and to the laws of the State where the court is located
- The court has subject matter jurisdiction.
- The court has personal jurisdiction.
- Reasonable notice and an opportunity to be heard has been given to the parties.
If these rules have been followed the court making the order has continuing and exclusive jurisdiction over the order unless a modification consistent with the Act has been made. A modification to the order can be made by the court with jurisdiction either because it had original jurisdiction or obtains jurisdiction because the child moved to another state and no parties remain in the original state. The parties can also agree in writing for a State to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over the order.
The FFCCSOA also contains the process for recognizing child support orders if more than one order has been issued. The basic premise being, the order from the state with exclusive jurisdiction must be recognized. If more than one state could have exclusive jurisdiction, then where the child currently resides must be recognized. The act provides several sceanarios for determining which order would be applicable.
Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act
Many of the problems of the enforcement of child support across state lines were remedied by the UIFSA and the FFCCSOA, but there may be areas such as judgments for past due child support payments or spousal support that are not covered. That is where the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (UEFJA) maybe helpful to enforce a judgment rendered in another state.
The UEFJA was drafted and approved by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 1948 and revised in 1964. It has not been enacted in all fifty states, but most states have. Also, it is a model act with no requirement that states enact an exact copy, so there is a lot of variation from state to state.
The purpose of the UEFJA is to allow for the enforcement of a judgment obtained in one state to be enforced in another state by merely filing the judgment with the Clerk of the Court. In Article IV, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution each state is required to give full faith and credit to the official acts and judgments of every other state. However, the Constitution did not provide a procedure or a mechanism for doing that, so parties who wanted to enforce a judgment in another state had to file a court action. The UEFJA simplified the process by only requiring that the judgment be lodged with the Clerk of the Court in the new jurisdiction.
The UEFJA only applies to:
- judgments, decrees or orders;
- of a court; and
- which are entitled to full faith and credit.
The act covers not only money judgments, but any order, such as to pay health insurance costs or name a support obligor as the beneficiary of an insurance policy can be enforced. However, there are caveats. The UEFJA only covers judgments and not administrative orders. Further, the U.S. Supreme court has held that states are only required to give full faith and credit to orders that are not modifiable. Barber v. Barber, 323 U.S. 77 (1944). Thus, child support and spousal support orders, which can be modified are not applicable. However, money judgments for arrears or past-due installments, which cannot be modified (See Bradly Amendment, 42 U.S.C. § 666(a)(9)).) would be subject to enforcement under the UEFJA.
Americans are very mobile. They move easily from state to state. Every family law attorney needs to be familiar with the statutes and laws that will allow their clients to obtain the child support that has been ordered. The FFCCSOA and UIFSA are two of the primary laws that will assist in the efforts for child support enforcement. And if they do not address the problem, an attorney can look to the UEFJA for enforcement.