The enforcement of family support, when the mother, father or children all live in the same state, is difficult enough. When it comes to interstate enforcement, things get downright complicated.
Prior to 1950, a US parent who wanted to ensure support against the other parent who lived in another US state had to travel to the support debtor's state to take legal action.
Since 1950, a uniform act has existed that allowed for those states which subscribed to it, to enforce each other's support orders. The 1950 act, prepared under the auspices of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, was called "URESA", short for Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act.
In 1968, URESA was amended and the new act was called "RURESA", short for Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act. By 1992, all US states had enacted RURESA or URESA. Even American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands had adopted a version of either URESA or RURESA.
A January 1992 US General Accounting Report concluded that 30% of all child support cases are interstate and that children in interstate cases are less likely than in-state children to receive support payments. In fact, 34% of custodial mothers in interstate cases report that they have never received a penny.
The federal government decided to take the lead and again sponsored the revision of the uniform interstate support legislation. The result was the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, or "UIFSA". In announcing the uniform legislation, the federal government announced its intention to attach considerable federal funding to the adoption of the uniform act by the 52 American states. By 2004, URESA had been superceded by UIFSA in all US states.
URESA & RURESA
The URESA system was much like the British Commonwealth reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders (REMO) system. Under URESA, a two-stop system was developed: a custodial parent would file a petition in the "initiating" state, which would be then sent to the "responding state", where the support debtor lived or owned property. A government-paid attorney would represent the out-of-state mother in the court hearing in the responding state. The responding state's court would then establish and enforce an order and forward payments received to the mother in the initiating state. In this way, the custodial parent was spared the travel and legal costs associated with having to defend the support petition in a distant state. But by the same token, the debtor could succeed in having the amount of the initiating state's support order reduced by his representations before the court in state of residence.
One of the greatest failings of URESA was the latitude left to individual state legislators to amend the uniform act, while adopting other parts of it. In addition, RURESA or URESA petitions took time: four to eight months. URESA/RURESA applications require considerably more paper and administration than do UIFSA applications. One lawyers said that filing a RURESA or URESA action was like sending the case "into a black hole." Nor were the earlier interstate acts designed to work with modern American support enforcement programs.
The UIFSA system is based on the primacy of just one support order. Under URESA or RURESA, the order developed through the interstate process could co-exist with non-interstate orders, so there could be more than one valid support order at the same time, between the same parties. Proliferation of orders made enforcement a nightmare.
Under URESA, if a parent had an existing support order, she would have two options. She could have the order registered in the state where the support debtor resided and it would then be enforced. Or she could, as mentioned above, send an interstate petition to the responding state, in which case a new order would be issued consistent with the support guidelines of the responding state. Even if the new order was lesser than the original order, arrears would continue to accrue under the initiating state's order so that, if the debtor or his property were ever to come under the jurisdiction of the initiating state, the arrears could be enforced as if the URESA order never existed.
UIFSA opted for a "one-stop shopping" approach, giving a state "long-arm" jurisdiction over a child support debtor even where nonresident. This is an exception to the normal rules of law where a court would not have jurisdiction over a nonresident. A state would have this jurisdiction, essentially, if one party or child resides in the state or if the parties agree to transfer continuing exclusive jurisdiction to another state (there are other "long-arm jurisdiction" grounds listed at section 201 of UIFSA).
This has become known as the "one-order system" or the "controlling order".
One of the most important concepts of UIFSA is known affectionately by those proficient in the field as "CEJ". An issuing jurisdiction (read "state") has continuing exclusive jurisdiction (CEJ) over its child support order as long as the state remains the residence of the Payor (aka obligor), the support recipient, or the child for whose benefit the support order is issued; or until all of the individual parties have filed written consents with the issuing tribunal for a tribunal of another State to modify the order and assume CEJ.
Until one of those events occurs, only the state which authorized the original support order can modify the award. In this way, all parties, courts and enforcement officials are assured that, between UIFSA states, there can only be one support order in effect at any given time.
In modification proceedings, it will be the law of the "continuing exclusive jurisdiction" state which will govern whether or not the nonresident has a duty of support. Note, however, that for enforcement purposes, it will be the law of the enforcing state that will govern enforcement proceedings.
Once issued, an support order may be sent to any other UIFSA state for registration. The exclusive power to modify a support order is of little use if the order cannot be enforced on an interstate basis. Registration gives the debtor's state enforcement authorities the jurisdiction to set all of their enforcement methods and agents loose against the debtor as if the order were an order of their own tribunal.
Registration does not give the enforcing state any authority to modify the order. The initiating state maintains continuing exclusive jurisdiction even though the debtor lives, or the order is being enforced, elsewhere.
Under UIFSA, a state can lose continuing exclusive jurisdiction if, for example and as discussed above, if none of the children or parents live in the state or if there is an agreement to transfer the file to another state. In those circumstances, it is possible to transfer continuing exclusive jurisdiction in order to modify the support award.
With the overlap of URESA/RURESA, UIFSA has a special section (207) which calls for a priority in the case of multiple RURESA/URESA orders, with precedence given to the most recent order issued by a tribunal of the child's home state.
Perhaps one of the most useful enforcement aspect of UIFSA is the ability to send an income withholding order directly to an employer in another UIFSA state. Other enforcement-friendly aspects of UIFSA include the judicial recognition of documents transmitted electronically (including facsimile copies) and testimony given by teleconference or by videotape. This alleviates any concerns over the economic burden placed on debtors which would otherwise have to travel to give evidence in modification proceedings under the "continuing exclusive jurisdiction" rule. UIFSA also comes with a set of federally-developed standard forms.
For more information about UIFSA or insterstate enforcement of support orders, each state has a "central registry" for the reception of interstate documents. Check for your state's central registry under the headings "child support" in your state's government phone book or contact the Office of Child Support Enforcement, at acf.hhs.gov.
Amendments to UIFSA were proposed in 2001 but the status and acceptance of that version remains a work in progress as it does not have the statutory mandate that UIFSA has.
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