The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) and its amendments limit the modification of child and family support orders. The purpose of developing this uniform law was to get rid of multiple lawsuits dealing with child support and alimony payments across state lines. UIFSA has been adopted in some form in New York and every other state.
Under New York Family Court Act section 580-205, New York courts that issue a spousal support order under New York law keep exclusive jurisdiction over those orders throughout the existence of the support obligation, even when both spouses move out of state. That means that only New York courts can enforce this obligation.
New York courts cannot modify spousal support orders issued in other state courts that also have continuing exclusive jurisdiction over a spousal support order under their own state laws. Once a state has issued a spousal support order, only that state can modify the order, even if neither of the parties continues to live in that state.
Under section 580-206, a New York court can serve as a responding tribunal to enforce or modify a support order over which it has continuing exclusive jurisdiction. When a party subject to this jurisdiction no longer lives in New York, the New York court can use special rules of evidence and procedure to get evidence from another state or section 580-318 to obtain discovery through another state’s courts.
In a 2006 case, a New York court considered a judgment of divorce that included an agreement by the husband to pay the plaintiff maintenance until she failed to exercise her access to her four kids for 45 continuous days. At the time of the agreement, the ex-spouses and children were New York residents. The mother moved to Massachusetts shortly after the divorce. The father moved to Florida without telling the court, and the mother didn’t see her kids from late July to early September, which was more than 45 days.
The father stopped making maintenance payments and told the mother that he was doing so because she failed to visit her kids in a 45-day period. The plaintiff tried to enforce the judgment, compel the father to resume his maintenance payments, and modify the judgment so that she could get visitation-related travel expenses. The defendant asked for a dismissal of the plaintiff’s motion on the grounds that forum non conveniens applied and that the New York court did not have personal jurisdiction over him.
The New York Supreme Court denied the father’s motion and granted the mother’s motion, awarding the plaintiff $10,800 in unpaid maintenance and modifying the prior judgment by mandating that the defendant pay visitation-related travel expenses. The father appealed.
An appellate court found that the New York Supreme Court didn’t have jurisdiction to modify the child support aspects of the divorce because both parties and the children moved out of state. That part of the order was reversed. However, since courts have continuing exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over a spousal support order and can use Domestic Relations Law section 244 to enforce payments, the Supreme Court did have jurisdiction over the enforcement.
The defendant argued that the Supreme Court had modified the provision by removing the 45-day visitation requirement. The appellate court determined that the defendant’s failure to provide notice about the move to Florida frustrated the mother’s ability to see the kids and excused her failure to perform. Therefore, she was entitled to keep collecting maintenance from the defendant.
The appellate court reversed the portion of the order that required the defendant to pay for the mother’s visitation-related travel expenses and to petition the court before terminating maintenance in the future.
For more information about alimony or maintenance in New York, schedule a free initial appointment with Darren M. Shapiro. Mediating couples are invited to come together for their free consultation. You can access us by filling out our online form or contacting us via phone at 516-333-6555.
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