Sooner State Court Resolves Dueling Child Support Orders Dilemma

Two states claim jurisdiction to enter an initial child support order.  In this case, the Minnesota order is over $500.00 per month more than the Oklahoma order.  The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) provides the means to resolve disputes over child support jurisdiction.  In Hanger v. Hanger, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals defers to the child support order entered in Minnesota.

The mother in Hanger moved from Oklahoma to Minnesota.  The date of her move proved a critical factor in resolving this dispute.  Mother claimed she and the children had been Minnesota residents for 6 months when she filed there for divorce, child custody and child support. Father claimed Mother and the children had only been in Minnesota for 5 months.  Husband filed his own petition to dissolve the marriage, and establish custody in Oklahoma. Husband filed his Oklahoma petition 6 days before Mother filed in Minnesota.  Wife served husband with her petition before he served her.

The Minnesota court determined after a hearing that the children had lived in Minnesota for 6 months before mother filed her petition.  This made Minnesota the home state of the children.  Father did not appeal that decision.

Decisions in both states determined that Minnesota had subject matter jurisdiction over child custody, and that Oklahoma was an inconvenient forum for custody issues.

The states entered conflicting orders regarding child support.  Minnesota entered the first order, claiming that responsibility because father’s Oklahoma petition did not specifically ask for a child support order.  The trial court in Oklahoma determined that father was first to file a petition, and the petition raised by inference the issue of child support.  The Oklahoma judge ruled that child support should be determined in the home state of the obligor parent.  Wife appealed the Oklahoma decision.

UIFSA, adopted in all 50 states, contains rules to resolve competing orders establishing child support.  The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals resolved this particular dispute using Section 204 of UIFSA.  The Oklahoma Court held on appeal that it should defer to the Minnesota court because

  • Mother filed her Minnesota action before the Oklahoma case was at issue
  • Mother raised a timely challenge to the Oklahoma support order, and
  • Minnesota is the home state of the children.

UIFSA supports a preference for initial child support jurisdiction in the home state of the child.  This same preference controls subject matter jurisdiction in the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, and the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act.  This increases the likelihood of one court assuming continuing exclusive jurisdiction of child custody and support issues.  If the child has no home state, the Comment to UIFSA Section 204 suggests “first filing” will continue to control.

by David Tracy

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