The calculation method, as well as the process of imposing or modifying child support, when the parties live in different states, is an especially complicated area of family law. Common questions parents ask are:
- In which state do I file the child support action?
- What happens if I, or the other parent, move to another state?
- Which state’s calculation method is used?
- Will there be a difference in the child support amount in State A vs. State B?
The answers are complex, and the legal and financial consequences for the parents can vary widely. It’s important to have a grasp of a few key principles of interstate child support law. Armed with that knowledge, and the advice of an attorney, parents can protect their own, and their child(ren)’s, financial interests.
The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act
The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, or UIFSA, is a collection of laws enacted by all 50 states in nearly identical form. It ensures that parties receive consistency in the application of certain child support laws, even as they move around the country. It establishes which state has jurisdiction over child support and determines the process by which parties can seek to impose or modify child support when multiple states are involved.
UIFSA does not provide a uniform child support calculation method. It governs the procedure, not the dollar amount, of multi-state child support actions. UIFSA leaves the calculation to the individual states, and each state uses a different calculation method. But it can still control the amount of child support by controlling which state’s calculation method is used.
The UIFSA is comprehensive in a way: the facets it addresses are thoroughly laid out. But many components of child support are left to the individual states. And although UIFSA is comprehensive, it’s complex – it takes a good amount of careful reading and cross-referencing to get answers to specific questions.
To simplify this topic a bit, and provide some helpful guidance, let’s address a few of the most common questions raised by multi-state child support.
Child Support Hasn’t Been Established Yet. Where Do I File The Case?
If child support has not yet been established, you have two options:
A. You can file the case directly in the state which has “personal jurisdiction” over the other party (usually only the state in which the other party resides, but there are some exceptions).
B. You can file in your own state, which will forward the case to the state where the other parent resides. In that case, the state in which you file is dubbed the “initiating tribunal” and the other state is the “responding tribunal.”
Let’s say that the parent filing the case (you) lives in Minnesota, and the other parent lives in Hawaii. Whether you file directly in Hawaii or file in Minnesota which forwards the case to Hawaii, the law of Hawaii will be applied. This is important. States calculate child support differently. One state might reduce child support for health insurance paid by the obligor (parent paying child support). One might give a reduction in the amount of parenting time the obligor exercises. One might use the incomes of both parents in the calculation, while the other uses only the income of the obligor.
Child Support Has Already Been Established. I Want To Enforce It. What Do I Do?
Assume child support was established when both parents lived in Minnesota. After that, you (the one seeking to enforce the order) continued to reside in Minnesota, and the other parent moved to Hawaii.
To collect child support, you can simply send the child support order to the employer of the other parent in Hawaii. Nothing else is required; sit back and watch the child support money roll in.
Or you can “register” the Minnesota order in Hawaii. To do this, you must send a copy of the order, along with a variety of other documents, to the Hawaii court. Why would a person do this? Because, when a parent registers the order, she gains access to certain enforcement options: collecting past-due amounts of child support, restricting the other party’s driver’s license for nonpayment, etc. Also, after you register, you can modify child support in that state more easily.
When you register the order, Hawaii applies nearly all of the Minnesota laws regarding arrearages, interest, the nature, extent, amount, and duration of payments, etc.
How Do I Modify Child Support?
To modify child support, the procedure depends on whether a state’s courts have what is known as “continuing exclusive jurisdiction” (“CEJ”). A state has this jurisdiction (which is the authority to make rulings) if it is the controlling order and:
- At the time of filing for modification, the obligor (parent paying child support), the obligee (parent receiving child support), or the child, lives in the state in which the child support order was established; or
- The parties consent to the original state’s jurisdiction, even if none of the parties reside there anymore.
However, the state where the order was issued cannot exercise CEJ in several instances, for example: when another state has validly modified the order under UIFSA.
When the state (let’s say Minnesota) has CEJ, any party can file a motion to modify child support in Minnesota. Minnesota’s law and calculation method will be applied, even if the other party has moved to another state. However, some courts have made it clear that it’s not proper for the party seeking a modification to file in his own state, citing the UIFSA comments. The reasoning is the UIFSA is designed to prevent a litigant from choosing to seek a modification in his own state to the disadvantage of the other party.
If Minnesota does not have CEJ, then the party seeking to modify child support must register the prior child support order in the other state (say Hawaii), and either:
- All the parties reside in Hawaii.
- If “1” doesn’t apply, then a hearing must be held, and you must prove:
- None of the parties live in Minnesota, the party seeking modification does not live in Hawaii, and the other party is subject to personal jurisdiction in Hawaii; or
- At least one parent, or the child, resides in Hawaii, and both parents consent to Hawaii’s jurisdiction.
Under either above option (1 or 2), child support will be calculated according to Hawaii’s guidelines, not Minnesota’s. Also, Hawaii’s rules with being applied regarding things like how much time must pass before a party can seek to modify, and whether, and to what extent, incomes or other circumstances must change before support can be modified. But, Hawaii cannot modify any aspect of child support which cannot be modified in Minnesota (e.g. the duration of child support, etc.).
Yes, it’s complicated. You were warned. There are many other important parts of the UIFSA, including which order controls when two or more child support orders are issued by multiple states. But that’s enough of the UIFSA for one article. Let’s turn our attention to one last aspect of multi-state child support, perhaps the most important factor for many parents: the potential impact on the amount of child support.
Will My Child Support Change If It’s Calculated In Another State?
Yes. Sometimes by a small amount, and sometimes by a large amount. Every state calculates child support differently. As the income of one or both parties increases, and the number of children increases, the disparity between states’ child support calculations increases as well.
For instance, one author cataloged the range of child support amounts across the 50 states. She used the same income and other inputs for each state’s calculator (one child, etc.), and she ran two tests: one for low-income families and one for high-income families. With low-income, child support ranged from $236 to $460 per month. With high-income, the range was $651 to $1,358 per month. Your child support could easily double or halve if calculated in another state. With very high income, amounts can differ by multiple thousands of dollars.
The principle here is: it’s important to get these multi-state child support issues right. The result can have a huge financial impact on you and your child.
These are not legal matters for the faint-of-heart or the non-professional. If you have a multi-state child support issue, contact an experienced attorney. Call the Severson, Wogsland & Liebl Family Law Team at 701-297-2890 or email us below if we could be of assistance to you with this, or other family law matters.
The information contained in this article and on this website is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to your particular set of facts.