California Court Had Jurisdiction to Hear Child Support “Application”

Most divorce proceedings that involve children tend to address the issue of child support, as well as custody and visitation. Local courts and state agencies alike take very seriously the matter of support, and will even step in to ensure that the responsible parent follows through with his or her court-ordered financial obligation to a child. In some unique cases, the divorced parents live in separate states or countries, and need assurances that they can seek and enforce a support order, no matter where the responsible parent resides. Fortunately, there are laws that address this situation. If you are considering divorce and concerned about the local laws affecting child support or any other related matter, you are encouraged to contact a family law attorney from the San Diego area, who will work diligently to protect your rights.

Every state in this country has adopted the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act or “UIFSA.” This Act essentially provides procedures for establishing, enforcing and modifying child support orders in cases where more than one state is involved. Together with a related federal law, the UIFSA ensures that only one state can exercise jurisdiction over a child support order at a given time. Section 4909 of the California Family Code codifies these principles, providing that the state which first issues a child support order has “continuing, exclusive jurisdiction” over the order, so long as certain legal conditions are met.

In a recent divorce case, Chico v. De Leon, the mother attempted to argue that a California court did not have jurisdiction to hear and issue child support orders that benefited her two minor children. Here, the couple got married in the Philippines in 1995, moved to Ontario, became Canadian citizens, and had two children in 1996 and 1997. In 2000, the parties separated, and the mother moved away to California and the father lived with the children in Canada. The father filed an application for child custody and support with an Ontario court. That court granted the father custody but failed to address the issue of support. Through a document called a “Support Application,” the father sought child support from mother. That document was filed in a California Superior court. The Ontario court further granted the parties’ divorce in 2005 without addressing child custody or support.

The California Superior court received documents regarding “reciprocal support proceedings” from the Ontario court, and scheduled a hearing, referencing the UIFSA. In 2006, the parties entered into a stipulation and order requiring the mother to pay $1,399 a month in child support. Over the years, that amount has been modified by the California court, and in 2012, the mother was ordered to pay $90,000 in child support arrears. In 2013, mother moved to vacate all court orders regarding child support, arguing that the court did not have jurisdiction over the matter. The Superior court ultimately found that it had properly acquired subject matter jurisdiction over child support under the UIFSA.

Mother appealed, arguing (among other things) that the requirements of the UIFSA were not satisfied. The court of appeals concluded that the lower court properly acquired jurisdiction under the under the UIFSA, pointing out that when the court issued its original support order in 2006, no other state or foreign jurisdiction had issued a support order for the couple’s children. To put it another way, California was able to acquire jurisdiction because no out of state child support order had been issued.

This case nicely illustrates the complexity of certain divorce proceedings, and how important it is to be aware of the facts and the law impacting your case. An experienced family law attorney would be able to advise you of your family’s legal rights under the particular circumstances of your case. Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties in divorce matters for more than 20 years. His office serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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