Which Court Has Jurisdiction Over Child Support?
The circumstances of life can take a person far from where they started, but some obligations stay with them regardless of location. Child support is a prime example of a financial commitment that does not disappear simply because a parent moves to another State. Moving between jurisdictions, though, does raise the question of which court has the authority to enforce or modify a child support order in the event of a dispute or request to increase or decrease the required amount. Child support orders from multiple States can easily create confusion and complications when withholding transfers or other issues arise. All States substantially follow a federal law that allows courts in jurisdictions outside of where the divorce occurred or the child is located to establish and enforce child support, as well as to enforce an order issued by another state. The purpose is to simplify and speed up the procedure used to take legal action.
Which Court Can Hear a Child Support Matter?
Jurisdiction over child support primarily rests on the physical location of the parties – both the parents and the child. However, note that depending upon the State in which the obligated parent resides, enforcing an existing income withholding order may be as simple as contacting the new State’s child support office and asking the withholding order to be transferred to the obligated parent’s new employer. For other issues when court intervention is needed, jurisdiction will need to be assessed. First, any State can enforce a valid child support order issued elsewhere using the laws it has in place for this purpose. Modification is trickier because the new State’s laws may differ. As a result, at least one parent or child must live in the State asked to change the original order. The parents can mutually consent to a particular State, or if not, the parent seeking to change the child support order will need to register and seek modification in the State where the other parent lives. Once modification is granted, the new State has jurisdiction going forward, and any State with previous jurisdiction may only collect back child support or other outstanding obligations.
Registering an Order in a New State
The key to transferring a child support order to a new court is registering the original order in the new State. Registration is required for both modification and enforcement, and the original issuing state typically sends copies of the order and other documents to the new child support agency. Notice of the registration must be provided to the other parent, and he/she has 20 days to object, or lose the right to challenge the transfer permanently. Grounds to challenge the validity of the registration include:
- The court that issued the original order did not have jurisdiction to do so;
- The order is stayed pending appeal;
- The order filed was suspended, modified, or vacated by a later order;
- The applicable statute of limitations eliminates the ability to pursue some or all of the arrears; or
- The order provided is not the controlling order.
Jurisdiction is one of the most complicated areas of the law, and any issue related to this matter should be addressed with a family law attorney.
Speak to a Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney
Child support is integral to your child’s wellbeing, and if there are questions about how to establish, enforce, or modify this obligation, talk to a family law attorney right away. The Media child support attorneys at Barbara Flum Stein & Associates know how to get the result you need to take care of your family. Contact us today for a consultation.