A Short Primer on Jurisdictional Issues related to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act
Updated: May 3
The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) is a law that was created to help ensure that child support orders are enforced effectively across state lines within the United States.
UIFSA was created by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and has been adopted by all 50 states in the US. Its goals and its effect are to provide a consistent framework for handling interstate child support cases.
Under UIFSA, a state court can only establish or modify a child support order only if it has jurisdiction over the case.
Under UIFSA, there are two types of jurisdiction that are relevant to establishing or modifying a child support order: in personam jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction.
In personam jurisdiction refers to the court's authority over the parties involved in the case. Specifically, the court must have jurisdiction over the obligor (the person who owes child support) or the obligee (the person who receives child support), and the court must be able to exercise that jurisdiction consistent with the due process requirements of the US Constitution.
In the context of child support cases under UIFSA, a court can establish or modify a child support order against an obligor who is present in the state, or who has sufficient contacts with the state that it is fair and reasonable to exercise jurisdiction over them. This could include situations where the obligor works in the state, owns property in the state, or has other significant connections to the state. This would be an example of in personam jurisdiction.
Subject matter jurisdiction, on the other hand, refers to the court's authority over the type of case involved. In the context of child support cases under UIFSA, a court generally has subject matter jurisdiction if the child, the obligor, or the obligee resides in the state. If multiple states have subject matter jurisdiction over the case, UIFSA provides rules for determining which state's court has priority.
Preventing Forum Shopping
As can be seen by the above discussion, one important aspect of UIFSA is to help prevent forum shopping in interstate child support cases. Forum shopping occurs when one party to a legal case tries to choose a particular court or jurisdiction that they believe will be more favorable to their interests. This can be especially problematic in interstate cases, where different states may have different laws and procedures.
To give a specific example under Texas' law, Texas courts generally have jurisdiction to establish or modify a child support order if the child resides in Texas or if the non-custodial parent resides in Texas. However, if there is an existing child support order from another state, then Texas may not have jurisdiction over the matter, unless certain conditions are met.
Under Texas law, these rules are found in Texas Family Code Sections 156.408, 159.610, 159.611 and 159.613, among others.
Overall, UIFSA is an important tool for preventing forum shopping and ensuring that child support cases are heard in the most appropriate jurisdiction.