The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act

In order to enforce an out-of-state order for spousal maintenance, alimony, support or child support, you need to know about UIFSA. Parties often need a legally recognized forum to collect either child support or spousal maintenance when the parties to the agreement or order live in different states.  People read THE UNIFORM INTERSTATE FAMILY SUPPORT ACT and tend to panic.  What on earth does it mean?  It is really not too complicated – just like a basic jigsaw puzzle.  Put together the different parts, and a complete picture emerges.

History and purpose of the UIFSA.

In order to understand UIFSA, it helps to know why Arizona enacted it.  UIFSA is a federal statute that applied to all the states. Parties often need a legally recognized forum to collect either child support or spousal maintenance when the parties to the agreement or order live in different states.  It is hard enough to collect arrears and enforce an order when all the parties live in the same jurisdiction.  Imagine the legal nightmare if the parties engaged in endless battles over which state had jurisdiction.  Parties could move, seeking a state that has more lenient or favorable laws.  Enacting UIFSA prevented ‘forum shopping’ by Arizona residents, or out of state parties who owed payments to Arizona residents.

Words every party should know

Whenever a law mentions ‘non-residents,’ it is referring to something in the law known as “long arm jurisdiction.”  Long arm jurisdiction gives courts in Arizona jurisdiction or power over an out of state citizen, when that citizen has “minimum contacts” with the state of Arizona.  The theory behind long arm jurisdiction is a party has received benefits or has sufficient relationship within a state, resulting in that party being subject to that state’s law.

Another term sprinkled throughout Arizona Marital and Domestic Relations statutes is ‘obligor’. The party who receives the benefit is the obligee.  But the obligor is the party who is obligated to perform, either by agreement or order. In family law context, the obligation typically relates to payment of spousal maintenance and/or child support.

How the Interstate Enforcement Law works

Issues may get complicated because two states are involved.  A party obligated to pay support has missed several payments, the obligation – whether by order or agreement was entered in Arizona, but all the parties no longer reside in the state.  Arizona maintains what is known as ‘continuing exclusive jurisdiction over the obligor to enforce’ the agreement or the order.  The foreign state, where the obligor now resides, is known as the enforcing state.  Arizona can transfer its support order to the enforcing state so the enforcing state may obtain compliance.  Once the support is transferred, the enforcing state has no power to modify the agreement, unless there is agreement from both parties.  Rather, the enforcing state must act in accordance with the ‘Full Faith and Credit Clause’ of the U.S. Constitution.

A Word to the Wise

If a party is served with a summons and complaint and files an answer or a response, without objecting to Arizona’s long arm jurisdiction, that party has submitted to the jurisdiction of the Arizona court.  Once a party is served with any Arizona-filed summons, they ought to immediately consult with an Arizona licensed attorney.