In today’s mobile society, parents who are the subjection of a child support order frequently move away from the state that originally adjudicated the child support case. In order to avoid conflicting child support orders, New Hampshire and many other states have adopted a variation of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, otherwise known as UIFSA. UIFSA sets forth a complex statutory scheme which states what court has the authority to issue a child support order, and whether the court that issues the order has the authority to subsequently modify the child support order.
In a recent decision issued, In Re: Ball, the New Hampshire Supreme Court clarified when a New Hampshire may court may modify a foreign child support order. In the Ball case, the parties were divorced in Massachusetts. Massachusetts issued a child support order for the parties’ children. Under Massachusetts’ law, child support may be paid after the child reaches age 18 under certain circumstances. All the parties and the children then moved to New Hampshire. The Massachusetts’ child support order was registered in New Hampshire. Registration of a child support order allows a New Hampshire Court to enforce, and in certain circumstances, modify that order.
After registering the child support order in New Hampshire, the parties agreed to modify the order, stating that child support would terminate under New Hampshire law. New Hampshire law states that child support generally cannot be ordered after the child reaches age 18 or graduates high school. When one of the children graduated from high school, the father asked the court to terminate his obligation to pay support for that child. The recipient objected, arguing that New Hampshire court did not have the authority to shorten the duration of child support that was originally ordered by a Massachusetts.
In a lengthy decision, the New Hampshire Supreme Court held that because all parties and the children resided in New Hampshire, when the child support order was registered, the New Hampshire court had the authority to modify the child support order. The Supreme Court then stated that the while a provision in UIFSA states that New Hampshire could not modify any portion of a foreign order that could not have been modified by the original issuing court, because the parties agreed to shorten the duration of the child support, that merely constituted an error of law which was waived when the recipient agreed to the modification.
The Ball case certainly stands for the proposition that any agreement to modify a foreign child support order should be carefully reviewed by an attorney before the agreement is filed with the court. In this case, because one of the parties may not have understood the difference between the child support durations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the child support recipient forfeited her right to receive up to five additional years of child support payments.
Andrew J. Piela is a Director at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. Mr. Piela concentrates his practice in civil litigation, family law, probate and land use litigation. You can reach Attorney Piela by e-mail at [email protected].