We live in an increasingly mobile society. It is now quite common for modern Americans to move from state to state—often along with their spouses and children—as they pursue educational or employment opportunities or for personal reasons. For the vast majority of those individuals who are relocating to a different state, the differences between the laws of the state that they are leaving and those of the state that they are moving to are not a cause for even a moment’s contemplation. However, for those individuals who are relocating with a divorce decree or a child support order in hand, their move across state lines can have very real consequences, as demonstrated in the recent Appellate Division decision in Flynn v. Flynn.
The laws of the various states in our country often vary significantly concerning family law issues, especially on the subject of child support. In order to provide clarity in situations where a party is seeking to enforce or modify a child support order across state lines, the states have adopted the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, commonly referred to by its acronym, “UIFSA.” UIFSA addresses cases where a potential conflict exists regarding a child support order, often because the order was entered in a state in which one or both of the parties and/or the child no longer reside.
In the Flynn case, the former husband and wife were divorced in Pennsylvania after a marriage that had produced two children. At the time of their divorce, the parties contemplated that the former wife would move to New Jersey and as a result inserted a provision in their divorce agreement stating that New Jersey would assume jurisdiction over the matter upon her relocation.
Eventually, after both the parties and the children had all moved to New Jersey and New Jersey had assumed jurisdiction of the case, the former husband filed a motion to “emancipate” the parties’ 18 year old, college student son (i.e., declare the child an adult who is no longer in need of support from his or her parents) based on the law in Pennsylvania, which does not require a parent to pay child support for a child who has reached 18 years of age. However, the trial court in New Jersey extended the duration of the former husband’s child support obligation for the son in college in accordance with New Jersey law, a decision which the former husband then appealed.
The Appellate Division reversed the decision of the trial court, finding that it was improper for a New Jersey court to extend the obligation for child support beyond that which is permitted under Pennsylvania law. Specifically, the Appellate Division held that, under UIFSA, as Pennsylvania was the state that had issued the initial “controlling” order, the duration of the former husband’s child support obligation could not be modified pursuant to New Jersey law, even though the former husband had arguably consented to the application of New Jersey law to the issue of child support.
The application of UIFSA to interstate child support disputes is one of the most complex areas in family law and can prove confusing for litigants and even attorneys who are not familiar with the nuances of the statute. The important takeaway from Flynn v. Flynn is that, in situations where a child support order exists, the relocation of one or both parties or the child to a different state can have unintended and serious effects when an application to modify the support obligation is filed.