“How is my out of state child support order treated in New Jersey?” A look at New Jersey’s Uniform Interstate Family Support Act

What happens when parties move to New Jersey and have a child support order entered by a court in another state?  This question implicates the jurisdictional authority of the two state courts and at times is confusing and always dependent of the facts.  The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (“UIFSA”) provides guidance on our court’s role to address a sister state’s support order when families move to New Jersey.

UIFSA is a federal statute that provides uniform guidance to judges reviewing applications to modify or enforce child or spousal support orders originally issued by another state.  The goal is predictability because the statute requires states to uniformly address these situations.  New Jersey has adopted UIFSA.  Consistent with the uniform statute’s terms, UIFSA permits parties to register an out of state order in New Jersey and request enforcement or modification of the ordered support terms.  However, to the surprise of many, UIFSA imposes limits on the authority of the New Jersey court to act.

This point was illustrated in a recent, unpublished Appellate Division case Flynn v. Flynn.   The Flynns were divorced in Pennsylvania in 2005. At that time, defendant lived in New Jersey and plaintiff planned to move to New Jersey as soon as the Pennsylvania former marital home was sold.  In fact, the divorce decree stated once plaintiff and the children moved to New Jersey, the divorce decree would be registered in New Jersey and New Jersey would assume jurisdiction.

The trial judge reviewed the provisions of UIFSA, which states once all parties move out of the state issuing the initial support order (Pennsylvania in the Flynns’ case), the new state (New Jersey) may take jurisdiction to modify or enforce the initial support order.  The Flynns requested New Jersey to modify child support provisions of the original Pennsylvania order  several times following their divorce.  The most recent motion was defendant’s application to provide child support for the parties’ college student.  Plaintiff objected stating child support must terminate consistent with Pennsylvania law, as the child in question was over eighteen and graduated from high school.  The trial court rejected plaintiff’s argument.  The judge found under New Jersey law the child’s age did not trigger emancipation and ordered child support to continue.

The New Jersey Appellate Division reversed.  Noting although UIFSA permits the New Jersey court to modify the amount of the original Pennsylvania child support order, it restricts New Jersey from altering the duration of the child support order.  Each states controls the emancipation of a child.  Some states, like New Jersey, require parents to continue to pay child support through college, other states, like Pennsylvania, terminate child support once a child has turned eighteen.

UIFSA requires the law of the state issuing the first child support order govern the duration of child support, regardless of where the parties reside later on.  Specifically, UIFSA provides, a state “may not modify any aspect of a child support order that may not be modified under the law of the issuing state, including the duration of support.”  Consequently, in the Flynns’ case, child support terminated in accordance with Pennsylvania, not New Jersey law.

If a move is likely, parties should consider including language in the original support orders or divorce decree stating the law of New Jersey, which would govern all future disputes, including payment of support if their child attends college.   Regardless, parties must carefully consider future implications of the governing laws of the state entering the initial support order.  If a move is planned, you must seek experienced matrimonial counsel to aid your transition.