Richard F. Gibbons, Jr., PLC
Uniform Interstate Family Support Act
The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) has been enacted by all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. UIFSA addresses widespread criticisms of the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (URESA) and its successor, the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (RURESA), and facilitates the establishment, enforcement, and modification of child support orders.

Problems with URESA

URESA provided the first mechanism for establishing and enforcing child support orders across state lines but it lacked a long-arm provision, so all proceedings required a cumbersome two-state process where proceedings were initiated in the first state by filing a petition or a request for registration that was forwarded to the responding state. URESA was designed to allow obligees to track down obligors and did not permit obligors to initiate an action.

A URESA order did not modify or replace a prior support order and was not replaced by any other support order, unless specifically provided for by the court. Thus, each URESA order existed independent of any other support order involving the same parties and child. If the URESA order required the obligor to pay support in an amount different from that set forth in the original support order, the obligor had to comply with both orders, although payments made pursuant to one order were credited to both. He or she was always obligated to pay the highest amount. The resulting proliferation of conflicting orders confused parents and contributed to accounting errors, as payments made in one state often were not credited against another state's order.

UIFSA Addresses Problems of URESA

UIFSA addresses the problems of URESA by including expansive long-arm provisions and relaxing the rules of evidence. The rules of evidence in UIFSA permit most interstate child support cases to be litigated in one state and reduce the need for cumbersome two-state proceedings.

One Controlling Order Under UIFSA

UIFSA includes rules to determine which of several existing child support orders is controlling, and it generally does not permit a tribunal to modify a support order in a UIFSA enforcement action. The state which issues the controlling order retains continuing exclusive jurisdiction to modify the order, except under limited circumstances. Under UIFSA, there is to be only one controlling order even when multiple states are involved in enforcing it. Once a support order is established, the issuing state has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to modify that order. The issuing state retains exclusive jurisdiction to modify, upon proper petition, so long as one of the individual parties or the child continue to reside in that state. Modification jurisdiction may be sought in child support cases either when all individual parties and the child have left the issuing state or when the parties have agreed in writing for another state to exercise jurisdiction.

Modification of Issuing State's Order

Under UIFSA, once another state acting in accord with UIFSA or a substantially similar law has modified the issuing state's order, continuing and exclusive jurisdiction is lost and the issuing state tribunal must recognize both the modified order and that continuing and exclusive jurisdiction is vested in the other state. However, the issuing state may continue to enforce arrearages accrued before the modification as well as enforce prospectively the non-modifiable aspects of the original order and impose sanctions for violations of its order occurring prior to the modification.

Evidentiary Improvements

UIFSA sets out special rules of evidence and procedure. Both obligors and obligees may resort to remedies under UIFSA. An obligor may initiate a proceeding to establish paternity or the original support order, or both. He or she may also seek to modify an existing order either by using the evidentiary and pleading rules to file an action in a state with continuing, exclusive jurisdiction or, when jurisdiction has lapsed, by registering the order for modification in the obligee's jurisdiction.

Direct Interstate Enforcement

UIFSA provides for two procedures for direct interstate enforcement. First, any administrative remedy that is available in the obligor's state and that is otherwise provided in an intrastate case in that state may be used by the obligee. Second, an income withholding order may be mailed directly to the obligor's employer in another state, which will trigger wage withholding unless the obligee objects.

Two-State Proceedings

Where long-arm jurisdiction cannot be obtained or the petitioner elects not to use it for tactical reasons. A state may serve as either an initiating or responding tribunal. It is the responding tribunal that may obtain personal jurisdiction over the respondent.

Simultaneous Proceedings

UIFSA petitions may be initiated by either the custodial or non-custodial parent. Particularly since the jurisdiction entering the original support order retains continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over future modification of the order and controls forever non-modifiable terms, it is conceivable that each parent may perceive an advantage in litigating in the other's state.

Determination of Parentage

UIFSA provides for an interstate proceeding purely to determine parentage. The tribunal may serve as an initiating state for such a proceeding and may act as a responding tribunal for a petition brought either under UIFSA, URESA, RURESA, or a substantially similar law. Either the mother or a man alleging to be the father of the child may initiate the petition. UIFSA does not specify any further conditions for bringing a petition or any prerequisites a petitioner must satisfy.

Copyright 2007 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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