By: John M. Schaffranek, Esq.
In today's mobile society, it is not at all surprising that parents with support orders (as either payors or payees) might move out of the state that initially issued the support order. A complicated situation arises when a payee has relocated to Pennsylvania and needs to enforce an out-of-state support order against a payor who also no longer lives in the state in which the order was issued. The situation is further complicated when a party wants to modify a support order from another state. These scenarios are governed by the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), which is a law that has been adopted by every state, with possible slight differences from state to state. While the following is written with one party moving to Pennsylvania, by and large, it should hold true for any state to which a party has moved after first securing a support order in a different state.
For strictly enforcement purposes, an out-of-state support order may be enforced by Pennsylvania by filing a certified copy of the order and certified copies of any modifications, the nonregistering party's name and other information about the nonregistering party, if known, as well as a statement by the registering party of any arrearages owed. Notice will be sent to the nonregistering party that the order has been registered, and the nonregistering party will have the opportunity to object to the registration of the order if he or she has grounds to do so. If the nonregistering party does not object, the order will be confirmed automatically.
Modifying a support order registered in Pennsylvania, however, requires that certain additional requirements be met. The first requirement is that neither the child, the payor, nor the payee lives in the state that issued the order. Next, the party seeking the modification cannot be the party residing in Pennsylvania. Finally, the party who is not seeking the modification must be subject to the jurisdiction of Pennsylvania. This last requirement is usually satisfied by the party simply living in Pennsylvania, which will invariably be the case if the first two requirements are met. The purpose of the requirement that the party seeking modification may not reside in Pennsylvania is to prevent a party seeking to change the rights of the other party in a forum that puts the non-moving party at a disadvantage. Therefore, where a payee of a support order has moved to Pennsylvania, he or she may register the support order in Pennsylvania and have it enforced. The reasoning here is that the parties have already litigated their rights. However, if the payee wants to pursue a modification, he or she must do so in the payor's state of residence. Conversely, if the payor wants to pursue modification of a support order where the payee has moved to Pennsylvania, he or she must do so in Pennsylvania.
Interstate legal matters are always a challenge. Fortunately, the existence of uniform laws like UIFSA makes processes somewhat smoother. Nevertheless, uniform laws are still complex, and each case presents its own unique set of facts. Enforcing or modifying a support order from another state is certainly possible. Given the complexities of the procedures, however, consulting an attorney would be wise.
Residents of Pennsylvania can seek modification of a support order from another state by filing in Pennsylvania using a two-state process, which would simultaneously involve the court having jurisdiction over the nonresident.