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Home Field Advantage and Child Support Obligations
I. History of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act
In the 1950's, legal professionals and the legislature moved toward a more unified approach to child support enforcement. The reformation began with the passage of the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (“URESA”) and subsequently, the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (“RURESA”). Each act sought a more unified approach to jurisdiction and enforcement in child support. Although these laws were ideal in theory, practical problems arose limiting the statutes’ effectiveness.1 Since enforcement was left to the individual states, many states deviated from the guidelines imposed by URESA, thereby reducing uniformity and making results unpredictable.2
In fact, in some instances the results contradicted URESA’s goal. For example, in Michigan, probation officers were responsible for the enforcement of child support whereas other states left it up to the individual creditor to collect through contempt charges.3 Thus, URESA and RURESA only lasted until1992 when they were replaced by the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act.4
The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (“UIFSA”) was drafted in 1992. Although UIFSA has been modified several times through the years, it has retained the goal of uniformity in enforcement throughout the revision process. Over the years, while the United States was developing its own method of uniform enforcement of child support, the rest of the world was participating in various forums, including the Hague Convention (“Convention”), an international event, to reach a similar end. It was not until 2003 that the United States joined the Hague Convention to engage in discussions of worldwide child support uniformity. UIFSA was most recently modified in 2008 during the Hague Convention; however, these amendments have not yet been implemented. The basic goals of UIFSA remain untouched by the 2008 amendments; in fact, the modifications, if made into law, will provide additional specificity and broaden UIFSA in jurisdictional scope. For instance, the most recent amendments give more meaning to the definition of “state” and “reciprocal laws” to include foreign countries participating in the Hague Convention. The most recent amendments may become law in the near future with the approval of the Senate and the signature of the President.5
From 1992 to the present, UIFSA built upon the foundations of URESA and RURESA attempting to satisfy the weaknesses identified in each law. For instance, RURESA operated by having an individual file for support in their state, then sending the request to the state where the debtor resided and where a hearing was then held. Finally, when a judgment was issued, the debtor’s state would collect the money and send it back to the initiating state. This required much paperwork and court oversight. RURESA required at least three copies of each document be sent to the responding state.6 Furthermore, RURESA only applied to states or U.S. territories with a “substantially similar”or “reciprocal law.”7 Many states developed reciprocal relationships with Canada and European countries through their own state law provisions.8 However, each law and each result was different. Thus, RURESA was limited in its jurisdictional reach and consumed immense resources including time and paper. These weaknesses and the states’ initiative to develop reciprocal relationships indicated that the United States was finally ready to join the Hague Convention in 2003.
The Hague Convention sought to establish a “uniform global system” of enforcement9 and more than seventy countries participated in working toward this unified approach.10 The motto of the Convention was “one order, one time” which signified the Convention’s commitment to international maintenance orders.11 Many of the Convention’s ideals were incorporated into the most recent amendments to UIFSA. Specifically, UIFSA provides continuing exclusive jurisdiction over child support orders to the issuing state.12 It operates as a long arm statute reaching to the limits of the Constitution. In all, UIFSA mandates that the law of the forum state applies whether one is seeking to establish, modify or enforce an order. The goal of the Convention was to standardize the process of enforcement to include: “wage assignments, tax refund intercepts, credit reporting, bank account levies and liens against real and personal property” while retaining the old method of civil contempt.13 All countries participating in the Convention adopted the same system of enforcement word for word with no deviation. Now, individual states do not have to develop reciprocal relationships with other countries that belong to the Convention. UIFSA will operate through the Convention as a Central Authority will receive and distribute child support orders, translate them if necessary and enforce them in their own territory.14 The centralized nature of the Convention is more efficient and since it is uniform throughout more than seventy territories, it will lead to the same results for each individual collecting support.15 The Convention has specific “[r]eciprocity requirements – including cost free services, mandated structures for administrative cooperation, and systems to monitor compliance” that were major improvements over the old laws.16 Furthermore, the Convention maximizes the use of technology to create centralized databases to easily transmit and receive orders as well as transfer funds electronically.17 While the Convention cannot be effective without the signature of the President and approval of the Senate, the Convention was signed in 2007 by representatives of the United States indicating “a commitment by the executive branch of the federal government to make a good-faith effort to bring the Convention into force.”18 Thus, the Convention may be law in the next few years.
III. Pennsylvania Law and UIFSA
The 1996 version of UIFSA is in place throughout the United State as a result of a Congressional mandate in exchange for continued receipt of federal child support enforcement funding.19 Therefore, the version of UIFSA that is in effect in all states is not the most recent. Pennsylvania codified the 1996 revision of UIFSA in 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7101 to 7901. The version adopted does not yet include the Hague Convention modifications, but the version in place has laid a strong foundation. The Pennsylvania version currently in effect provides continuing exclusive jurisdiction for the initiating state over child support orders entered in Pennsylvania.20 When more than one child support order is in place, the controlling order is the one issued by the child’s home state.21 By individual request, a Pennsylvania court will determine the child’s home state and the appropriate controlling order.22 A current provision that was eliminated in the proposed 2008 amendments requires three copies of a petition for enforcement to be sent to the responding state.23 The goal is to reduce waste and rely more on technology. Consistent with the 2008 amendments and the goals of the Convention, Pennsylvania does not charge a filing fee or impose other costs when filing a petition for support.24
Support orders are enforced in accordance with the support guidelines and utilizing Pennsylvania substantive and procedural laws.25 When an issuing state sends an order to this tribunal, Pennsylvania has several methods of enforcement including: wage withholding, liens, civil contempt charges, and the issuance of bench warrants for non-appearance or non-payment.26 Extradition is permitted as a more serious method of enforcement.27 A wage withholding form may be sent to an employer in this state for compliance with an out of state order without first filing a petition.28 The employer must then comply so long as the form appears valid on its face.29 The party contesting an order has the burden of proof relating to defenses to enforcement such as fraud or full payment.30
Pennsylvania’s child support agency is available to aid the courts in enforcement and can notify both parties of any information relevant to their duty of support.31 The state information agency is required to compile addresses and information related to support orders, respond to requests for assistance, and share information with other states.32 Furthermore, the state agency is charged with disbursing funds to the appropriate parties.33
The last section of Pennsylvania’s version of UIFA reads that the law “shall be applied and construed to effectuate its general purpose to make uniform the law with respect to...” child support enforcement “...among states enacting it.”34 This represents Pennsylvania’s dedication to uniformity; however, the recent success of the Hague Convention indicates a worldwide dedication to the same.
Previous legislation, especially URESA, RURESA and UIFSA, laid a proper foundation for the revolution towards global uniformity in child support. In the coming years, there may be additional changes to child support law with the passage of the 2008 amendment of UIFSA and the adoption of the international Hague Convention. The Hague Convention will simplify international child support cases and eliminate jurisdictional, language and political boundaries. Until then, states may look to their own version of UIFSA for guidance in the realm of international child support enforcement.
IV. What UIFSA Means to You
The homestate of the child, where support is initially filed, is an important factor relative to support because it becomes the location with “continuing exclusive jurisdiction.” The initiating state retains its jurisdiction over the child support matter unless the connection with the parties, meaning Mom, Dad and the Child, becomes so little that there is no reason for the jurisdiction to have any interest in their lives. This can happen if support is filed in one state but over the years, everyone moves out of that state. If the child still lives in the initiating state, it retains jurisdiction. The location of the child is the most important consideration.
Another interesting aspect of UIFSA is that some aspects of a support order simply cannot be modified. For instance, the age of emancipation is a non-modifiable aspect of a child support order. Emancipation refers to the end point of the payor’s obligation to pay support . Therefore, the state where child support is initially filed determines the age of emancipation. This can be an important consideration in some cases. Specifically, if you originally file in a state whose age of emancipation is twenty-one, rather than eighteen, the support obligation will continue until the child reaches the age of twenty-one regardless of whether you move to a state with a younger age and modify the order.
In sum, the initiating state’s jurisdiction remains throughout the life of the support obligation and some aspects of the obligation may never be modifiable. Thus, when filing for support, the state in which you file is an important consideration which should be taken into account.
1 Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (Last Amended or Revised in 2008) With Prefatory Note and Comments, 43 Fam.L.Q. 75, 81 (2009).
2 Marilyn Ray Smith, Child Support at Home and Abroad: Road to The Hague Convention, 43 Fam.L.Q. 37, 39 (2009).
4 Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (Last Amended or Revised in 2008) With Prefatory Note and Comments, 43 Fam.L.Q. 75, 81 (2009).
5 Id at 81-83.
6 Marilyn Ray Smith, Child Support at Home and Abroad: Road to The Hague Convention, 43 Fam.L.Q. 37, 39 (2009).
7 Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (Last Amended or Revised in 2008) With Prefatory Note and Comments, 43 Fam.L.Q. 75, 84 (2009).
8 Marilyn Ray Smith, Child Support at Home and Abroad: Road to The Hague Convention, 43 Fam.L.Q. 37, 54 (2009).
9 Mary Helen Carlson, United States Perspective on the New Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance, 43 Fam.L.Q. 21, 23 (2009).
10 Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (Last Amended or Revised in 2008) With Prefatory Note and Comments, 43 Fam.L.Q. 75, 84 (2009).
11 Marilyn Ray Smith, Child Support at Home and Abroad: Road to The Hague Convention, 43 Fam.L.Q. 37, 51 (2009).
12 Id at 49.
13 Id at 50.
14 Mary Helen Carlson, United States Perspective on the New Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance, 43 Fam.L.Q. 21, 22(2009).
16 Id at 38.
17 Marilyn Ray Smith, Child Support at Home and Abroad: Road to The Hague Convention, 43 Fam.L.Q. 37, 51 ( 2009).
18 Id at 85.
19 Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (Last Amended or Revised in 2008) With Prefatory Note and Comments, 43 Fam.L.Q. 75, 81 (2009).
20 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7205.
21 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7207 (a.1)(2).
22 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7207 (a.2).
23 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7304.
24 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7313.
25 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7303; 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7602.
26 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7305.
27 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7801.
28 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7501.
29 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7501.1.
30 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7607.
31 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7307.
32 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7310.
33 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7319.
34 23 Pa.C.S.A. _ 7901.
I conveniently represent clients in the Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties, the towns of Wayne, Radnor, Philadelphia, King of Prussia, Paoli, Devon, Berwyn, Newtown Square, Villanova, Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Ardmore, Lower Merion, Media, Wallingford, and Swarthmore, and throughout Pennsylvania.
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