Interstate and International Support & Custody
How does child custody and support work when children are moved across state lines or into different countries?
Child Custody Across State Lines
Every year, millions of American families move interstate with their children. Sometimes the parents are separated and the children move with one parent to a new state. Other times the kids remain with one parent in one home state, and the other parent moves away. When separated parents live in the same state, that state’s courts can determine custody and placement of the children under that state’s laws. When parents live in two different states, it can be difficult to know which state’s laws govern and which state’s courts should decide custody. To address the conflict over which state’s laws govern a custody situation, federal rules were established known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).
The UCCJEA was drafted in 1997 (text here) and evolved out of prior law known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA). The UCCJA was America’s first comprehensive attempt to establish national rules on how courts in different states should handle interstate custody issues. The UCCJEA has since been enacted into law by virtually every state and is recognized as the go-to rules when dealing with interstate custody and visitation disputes. Texas’ enacted statute, found in Chapter 152 of the Texas Family Code, outlines: court procedures, jurisdiction; and enforcement.
Some major interstate jurisdiction rules involve:
- The four ways a Texas court can acquire initial jurisdiction to decide an interstate custody matter. In summary, the four ways are when:
- 1. Texas is the child’s home state;
- 2. Texas is the state where the child and parent(s) have “significant connections”;
- 3. The would-be jurisdiction state(s) choose not to exercise jurisdiction, leaving Texas to exercise it;
- 4. No other state would have jurisdiction, leaving Texas to exercise it.
- How a Texas court maintains its Exclusive Continuing Jurisdiction (ECJ) once it acquires jurisdiction.
- How a Texas court acquires subsequent jurisdiction to modify a prior state’s order
- How a Texas court that has no jurisdiction over a child acquires Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction to protect the child while he or she is present in Texas.
Some major interstate child custody enforcement rules involve:
- How Texas courts must recognize and enforce out-of-state custody or visitation orders brought to them;
- How Texas courts may issue temporary orders to either enforce an out-of-state order’s visitation schedule or create its own temporary visitation schedule if none exists;
- How out-of-state custody or visitation orders can be registered in Texas;
- How Texas courts may enforce registered out-of-state custody or visitation orders.
Child Support Across State Lines
Interstate child support cases generally arise in Texas either when:
- the child and one parent lives in Texas and the absent/obligor parent lives in another state, or
- the absent/obligor parent lives in Texas and the child and the other parent lives in another state.
Traditionally, both the parent living with the child who seeks to establish, enforce, or modify child support against the absent parent or the absent parent who seeks to establish child support on himself or modify child support would have to travel to appear before a court in the other state. The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) changed all that. The UIFSA are model federal rules that allow state courts to establish, enforce, and modify child support orders without requiring both parents to be present. The UIFSA helps parents collect child support that would previously have been difficult to collect due to distance. Before the UIFSA (and its precursor the URESA), a parent’s only option to begin collecting child support from an out-of-state parent was to travel to where he lived and take him to court. The time and attorneys fees this would have consumed guaranteed failure. Additionally, because private attorneys usually practiced law in only one state, parents needing help would have needed to track down out-of-state attorneys to do the job. Under the UIFSA, parents have the additional option of visiting their local IV-D agency and getting them to make contact with the “responding” state to begin the child support collections process (the state making initial contact is known as the “initiating” state).
In Texas, the IV-D agency in charge of child support is the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division (OAG or commonly referred to as just AG). The OAG is involved in the majority of all interstate child support matters affecting Texas residents. Texas parents can hire their own attorneys to represent them before the OAG. The UIFSA allows Texas courts to register and enforce out-of-state child support orders. Everyday, many obligor parents with out-of-state orders are sued by the OAG for alleged nonpayment of child support. The UIFSA also allows Texas parents with Texas child support orders to transmit their orders to a different state where an obligor lives for that state to register and enforce the Texas order. The rules involving out-of-state orders, jurisdiction, and especially modification of out-of-state orders can become notoriously complex. Consult a competent attorney to explain in detail.
International Child Support
A lot of the success in obtaining child support from a parent who lives in a foreign country depends on what country they live in. If the obligor parent lives in one of the countries the United States Government has declared “Foreign Reciprocating Countries” or FRC (listed below), then obtaining child support may be simple. The US parent seeking to establish child support could visit their state’s IV-D agency local office and request the local office to formally request the FRC nation where the obligor parent lives to obtain a child support order against him and begin collections. If the seeking obligee parent already has a court order from a state court, they could ask the IV-D agency to request the FRC nation to register and enforce it.
FRC Nations List
Australia — May 21, 2001.
Canadian Provinces or Territories: Alberta –Sept. 4, 2002.
-British Columbia — Dec. 15, 1999.
-Manitoba — July 11, 2000.
-New Brunswick — Feb. 1, 2004.
-Newfoundland and Labrador — Aug. 7, 2002.
-Northwest Territories — Feb. 7, 2004.
-Nova Scotia — Dec. 18, 1998.
-Nunavut –Jan. 20, 2004.
-Ontario — Aug. 7, 2002.
-Prince Edward Island — Feb. 2, 2013.
-Saskatchewan — Jan. 24, 2007.
-Yukon — May 22, 2007.
Czech Republic — May 3, 2000.
El Salvador –June 21, 2007.
Finland — Sept. 29, 2007.
Hungary — Jan. 22, 2007.
Ireland –Sept. 10, 1997.
Israel –July 1, 2009.
Netherlands — May 1, 2002.
Norway — June 10, 2002.
Poland — June 14, 1999.
Portugal — Mar. 17, 2001.
Slovak Republic — Feb. 1, 1998.
Switzerland — Sept. 30, 2004.
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland — Dec. 17, 2007.
An official FRC list can be found here.
FRC nations have established their own child support rules and have procedures in place that help facilitate child support collections and transferring funds for children living in the US. Without the cooperation that exists between the US and FRC nations, many US parents would find themselves with little options to help secure support for their kids.
But what if the obligor parent lives in non-FRC nation? Unfortunately it is much harder to collect child support from parents residing in non-FRC nations. Although US state courts may still register and enforce foreign support orders from non-FRC nations against obligors living in the US, the favor may but won’t necessarily be reciprocated by non-FRC nations. For example, if an obligor father lives in a non-FRC country such as Nigeria, the mother living in the US has no official method to request for Nigeria to obtain a child support order against him to make him help support their child living in the US. The US mother also has no method of having an existing US child support order registered in Nigeria and enforced against him.
Frequently the recourse a parent has is to obtain their own child support orders in the country where the obligor lives. If the costs are worth it, a US parent could travel directly to the courts of the country where the obligor parent lives. Or depending on the facts and what foreign country is involved, the US parent could work with a private attorney from the country where the obligor parent lives and see if that private attorney can obtain or enforce an order.
A major turning point on getting US child support orders enforced internationally would be through the international law known as the Hague’s Convention of 23 November 2007 on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance. The US has signed this international law but has not yet approved it to turn it into US law. The Convention would facilitate international cooperation with many more countries to help enforce child support obligations from obligors living in foreign countries not on the FRC list. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Convention is still pending before the US Senate for ratification.