Figuring out who owes what for child support is complicated enough when both ex-spouses live in the same state. Those matters can become a real headache if you and your ex live in different states.
Fortunately, the U.S. legal system has encountered this situation before, many times, and there are procedures for handling it. However, the process when parents live in two states definitely takes extra time, effort, and a sophisticated understanding of the law. We highly recommend hiring experienced counsel if you’re facing this scenario.
But here are the basics you need to know.
Uniform Interstate Family Support Act
Child support and divorce law are specific to each state. But the federal government has ensured that the process for figuring out what state law applies is the same throughout the country. In 1996, Congress passed a law that required each state to adopt uniform standards or else face a loss of funding for child support enforcement, and they all signed on.
The uniform standards prevent child support cases from being tied up in courts unreasonably long as judges figure out which state’s laws should apply. It also eliminates the incentive a non-custodial spouse might otherwise have to move out of state for the purpose of lowering child support payments.
Which State Has Jurisdiction?
Everything depends on which state has jurisdiction, or in other words, the power to make binding rulings. Under the UIFSA, the state where the first child support order was entered is the state that has what is known as “exclusive jurisdiction” over the case. In other words, that state law will continue to apply, and if you want to make modifications to child support, you must ask for the change from a court in that state.
The original state continues to have exclusive jurisdiction as long as at least one parent resides in the state. So if one parent moves out of state, nothing changes. The orders issued by judges in the original state will be valid, and will likely be enforced against a non-custodial parent, even if they live in another state.
What If Both Parents Move Out of State?
Things get trickier if both parents move out of the original home state. That means the original state no longer has jurisdiction to modify the order. If either parent wants to make changes to child support, they will have to determine which of the new states has jurisdiction. That depends either on which ex-spouse makes a filing with a court first, or which state the child has resided in for at least six months.
As you can imagine, there can be some opportunity for gamesmanship and forum shopping if both parents move out of state. Child support payments and terms vary greatly from state to state, and each parent will have an interest in transferring jurisdiction to the state where the law is most favorable to them. An experienced attorney is especially important if you are in this specific situation.
Will Payments or Other Terms Change?
If the state with jurisdiction over the case changes, that means the payments and terms can change to be consistent with whatever that state’s law calls for. Child support payments and other conditions, such as how long you must continue paying child support, are dramatically different across the country. In some states, typical child support payments are as low as around $400. In others, they may be well over $1,000. So it’s important to get solid legal advice to understand what risks you face and how to get the best result.