Arizona court lacked jurisdiction over out-of-state child support order

In Glover v. Glover, the Court of Appeals of Arizona reversed and vacated an order of the Maricopa County Superior Court modifying the parties' Massachusetts child support order, holding that the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to order the modification because the child support order was never properly registered in compliance with the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act.

Background

The parties were married in 1992 and had a son in 1997. They obtained a divorce in Massachusetts in 2001. The Massachusetts divorce judgment required the parties to comply with the terms of the parties' separation agreement that included provisions specifying child support, parenting time and other child-related matters. Both parties and their son subsequently moved to Arizona.

In 2006, the father filed a petition in the Maricopa County Superior Court to modify the Massachusetts divorce judgment. The father sought an increase in his parenting time and changes to his child support obligation. The father filed a certified copy of the Massachusetts judgment with the petition. The mother opposed the petition and requested enforcement of the Massachusetts judgment and an award of approximately $6,000 in child support arrearages. The parties subsequently came to an oral agreement. The superior court entered a stipulated order on all of the terms of the agreement except child support. Although the stipulated order provided a separate order was to modify the father's child support order effective May 1, 2006, no such order was apparently ever issued by the court. During the next four years the father paid the mother a reduced child support amount without objection.

In 2010, the State of Arizona brought enforcement proceedings to collect child support arrearages that were calculated based on the Massachusetts support order. After the state obtained a wage assignment order from the father's employer, the father filed a motion to retroactively modify the Massachusetts support order under the parties' 2006 agreement. The superior court granted the motion, and the mother appealed the ruling.

The ruling by the Court of Appeals

On appeal, the mother argued that the superior court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to modify the child support obligation because the Massachusetts judgment had never been properly registered in Arizona in compliance with the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. The Court of Appeals agreed, stating that, under the Uniform Act, strict compliance with the registration provisions serves as a prerequisite to conferring subject-matter jurisdiction on Arizona courts to enforce and modify a child support order issued by another state.

The Court of Appeals noted that the father was not in compliance due to his failure to file:

  • A transmittal letter to the Maricopa County Superior Court requesting registration and enforcement of the Massachusetts judgment.
  • Two copies, including one certified copy, of the Massachusetts judgment, with the parties' separation agreement providing proof of the child support obligation.
  • If applicable, a sworn statement establishing the amount of any arrearage.

The father argued that the Act's registration requirements were permissive, rather than mandatory, and that he had properly filed the Massachusetts judgment in the superior court using an alternative procedure that is available under Arizona's Revised Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act. The Court of Appeals rejected these arguments, holding that such alternative procedures are not permitted, as this would bypass requirements for notice to the non-registering party under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act.

Individuals facing issues relating divorce, child custody or other domestic relations matters are urged to consult with a competent attorney, experienced in such matters for the protection of their legal rights.