You’ve got the kids. The Ex went to London. Or Tokyo. Or Guatemala. Or Timbuktu. What does it matter? The Ex is gone. Like gone gone. Another country gone. And the weasel owes you child support.
If you find yourself in this uncomfortable position, fear not. Well, fear some. But not too much.
There is Hope.
Unfortunately, Hope comes in the form of UIFSA. Yoo-If-Sah. UIFSA. It stands for: the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. I say ‘unfortunately’ because UIFSA is a dizzying labyrinth of sub-sub-subsections and an endless rabbit-hole of “as-defined-in” referents.
But there is still Hope.
UIFSA exists to provide uniformity (hence the name) in child support enforcement and modification nationwide (and beyond!). Where multiple states have a hand in a child support order in some fashion another (whether creating, modifying, or enforcing it), UIFSA functions to clarify the controlling jurisdiction and, thus, ascertain which state’s laws control.
For example, if Mom and Dad (for simplicity’s sake) have two kids, X and Y, and then divorce in Utah. Let’s say a Utah court determines that Mom gets primary custody and that Dad owes Mom $bleep amount of money per month in child support. In this case, Utah will be said to have what’s called Continuing Exclusive Jurisdiction (CEJ).
In our little, all-American example, let’s pretend Dad moves to Iowa. Absent an order or stipulation otherwise, Utah would still have CEJ.
Let’s now pretend instead that Mom moves to Iowa with the kids. Even in this case, Utah has CEJ.
Even if Mom and the kids move to Iowa, and Dad moves to Maine, Utah has CEJ unless everyone agrees to change that to a different jurisdiction.
This means that Utah law governs the enforcement and modification of the child support order.
Okay – are we all together so far? Good. Cuz it’s about to get weirder. Because that’s how the real world works.
Let’s pretend that Mom and Dad divorce in Kentucky. Mom gets primary custody of the kids, and Dad has to pay $bleep amount in child support under a Kentucky support order. Kentucky has CEJ. Now, Mom and the kids move to Utah. Dad, on the other hand, moves to Shangri-La. Out of the country. Gone gone. And, oh yeah, Dad has “forgotten” to pay child support for the past year and a half, and owes $bleep,000.00 in back child support.
Now we see if this UIFSA thing really works. Kentucky still has CEJ. Dad isn’t around to consent to a change in CEJ. Now what? Well, first of all, UIFSA still applies, so that’s a start. Under Utah’s UIFSA, “ ‘Outside this state’ means a location in another state or a country other than the United States, whether or not the country is a foreign country.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-14-102. UIFSA still applies when Dad is in Shangri-La.
Unfortunately, in our situation, Kentucky is still the controlling state for purposes of CEJ. Only Kentucky can enforce or modify the support order. And that’s a pain in rear for a single Mom with two kids in Utah. In this situation, Dad is still under the CEJ, but in order to enforce the action, Mom would have to have Dad served with notice to enforce the order in Shangri-La. Talk about a pain in the rear.
Alternatively, Mom’s best bet is to try to get personal jurisdiction (PJ) over Dad in Utah. If Utah gets PJ over Dad in Utah, then Mom can enforce her child support order from home. There are any number of ways to get PJ over Dad, but the easiest would be to have him served while he’s in Utah. Maybe he comes to visit the kids (maybe unlikely, but it would make life easier). Otherwise, maybe Dad has some, what we call “minimum contacts” in Utah. He does business here—even just making business phone calls to Utah—or takes online orders in Utah. These are enough to get PJ over Dad, and then a Utah court could enforce or modify the original child support order.
It’s a complicated, complicated world. And we haven’t even scratched the surface. UIFSA will spin your head and leave you nauseous. If your Ex lives abroad and owes child support, please give us a call. Let us absorb that nausea for you.