May 5, 2014 By Paul Wallin
Child support modification
Paying too much for child support?

Recently, the California Court of Appeals was asked to review a father’s modification request to lower his child support payments. At the time of the child’s birth, the family lived in California. However, when he requested modification, neither the father, nor the mother and child were living in this state.

The Court had to determine whether or not California still maintained authority over the matter. The case centers on Section 4909 of the California Family Code, which governs what is known as “continuing, exclusive jurisdiction” over a child support matter. Section 4909 is California’s adoption of a federal law called the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA).

UIFSA helps make sure that child support orders are uniformly enforced, no matter in what state or country the payer (or “obligor”), the recipient (the “obligee”) and the child resides.

The appellate court in the present case held that when a lower court granted the father’s request for modification, it was incorrect in acting in excess of its authority. The Court of Appeals decided that the lower court did not have continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over the support order and remanded (sent back) the case to the Superior Court with instructions to deny the father’s request.

In the Marriage of Gabriela and Christopher Haugh

The San Diego County Department of Child Support Services (Department) brought action in this matter after Christopher Haugh (father), sought and was granted an order reducing his child support payments to Gabriela Castro (mother).

In 2008, the trial court ordered Haugh to pay Castro $700.00 per month in child support for their son. In 2007, Castro moved with their son from California to Texas. In or about 2011, Haugh moved from California to Nevada. On January 14, 2013, Haugh filed a request to modify the amount of his child support payments based on his reduced income. Castro opposed his request for modification, arguing the matter should be heard in the state of their son’s residence (i.e., Texas) because none of the parties lived in California.

Castro based her objection on the fact that, under Family Code section 4909 (a), the trial court did not have continuing jurisdiction to modify the support order. The trial court did not agree with her, stating that it “continues to have jurisdiction, until another state assumes jurisdiction. You don’t leave a party without a forum.”

Accordingly, the trial court heard Haugh’s motion and granted a modification to lower his support payments to $508.00.

The Department, charged with enforcing the support order, filed a timely notice of appeal.

How Did the Court Rule?

The appellate court reasoned that the “cornerstone” of the federal law (UIFSA) pursuant to section 4909 of the Family Code is the concept of “continuing, exclusive jurisdiction.” When the father, mother and child left California, the state lost its authority over the support order. California law under section 4909 provides that a California court has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over a child support order only under the following conditions:

  1. One of the parties (father, mother or child) continues to reside in California; or
  2. All independent parties (if all parties have moved out of state) have filed written consents with a California court, allowing for the California court to maintain the jurisdiction necessary to modify the child support order.

It is clear that neither of the two conditions above were not met by the parties involved in this case. Since no party in this case continued to reside in California, and all independent parties did not file written consents, the court decided that California no longer retained exclusive jurisdiction.

The appellate court held that the trial court could not grant Haugh’s request for modification, and thus overstepped its authority when it did. It reversed the trial court’s modification order and directed that court to deny the father’s request.

What Does This Decision Mean for You?

If a California court orders you to pay child support, you need to be aware that the order stands when all parties have moved to a different state. If all the parties to the matter no longer reside in California then the only way to modify the California child support order is to bring an action in the state where the minor child currently resides. If you and the other parent live in different states, the local child support agency handling your case must enforce the most recent order, no matter where all parties live.

Contact Wallin & Klarich If You Need Help With a Child Support Order

If you or someone you care about needs assistance with a child support modification, you should speak with one of our experienced family law attorneys at Wallin & Klarich today.

Our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 30 years of experience helping thousands of clients resolve family law matters. We will thoroughly examine all the details of your case to help you get the best possible results in your case.

With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich are conveniently located near you. We will help you get the best possible result in your case. You don’t have to go through this alone.

Call us today at (888) 749-7428 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.

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