The New Hampshire Supreme Court’s decision In the Matter of Ball and Ball illustrates the importance of seeking the advice of an attorney familiar with the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, more commonly referred to as “UIFSA”. In the Ball case, the parties were divorced in Massachusetts in 2004. The Massachusetts divorce decree provided that the father was obligated to pay child support until the child reached age 23 if the child is a full-time college student, or 21 if not in college but principally dependent on the mother for support, which is in accordance with Massachusetts law.
Both parents and the child moved to New Hampshire in 2008 and thereafter registered the Massachusetts support order in the New Hampshire court. The parties also entered into a stipulation to modify the child support order. The parties specifically agreed to strike the duration of child support defined in the Massachusetts decree and agreed that New Hampshire law would govern the duration of child support.
When the parties’ daughter reached age 18, the father petitioned the New Hampshire court to terminate child support as the child was turning 18 and had graduated high school, which is consistent with New Hampshire law. Mother objected claiming that child support should continue pursuant to Massachusetts law and should be payable to at least until the daughter turned 21 or, potentially, 23 if she is a full-time college student. The trial judge denied the father’s petition to modify, relying on the provisions of UIFSA which state that a New Hampshire court may not modify any aspect of the Massachusetts child support order that are not modifiable under Massachusetts law. The father then appealed the trial court’s decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
On appeal the New Hampshire Supreme Court recognized that under Sections 49 and 51 of UIFSA, a New Hampshire court is generally prohibited from modifying the duration of a Massachusetts child support order as Massachusetts law does not permit a Massachusetts court to modify the duration of child support. However, the Supreme Court explained that the mother lost her right to contest the modification of the child support duration as she agreed to that term in the 2008 stipulation and never sought a timely appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. As such, the mother’s failure to take such actions in 2008 prohibited her from contesting the earlier modification.
The Ball decision is instructive on the parties’ rights to seek the advice of experienced counsel when attempting to modify another state’s child support order in New Hampshire. Failure to seek timely advice and to protect the child’s rights may have significant financial consequences. In the Ball case, mother’s lack of understanding of her rights under UIFSA resulted in a significant loss of financial support to her and her daughter. The law is a complex system which is made further difficult when dealing with the laws of more than one state. As such, it is important to seek legal counsel when dealing with complex matters and there are often significant strategic considerations when deciding how to proceed. When faced with these issues, it is usually in the parent’s best interest to consult with an attorney who is experienced in handling interstate support issues to determine the best course of action. If you have any questions regarding a child support case involving one or more states, please contact one of the attorneys at Hamblett & Kerrigan for a consultation.
Kevin P. Rauseo is a former director at Hamblett & Kerrigan P.A. and has since been appointed as a Justice for the New Hampshire Circuit Court. Please feel free to contact another attorney at Hamblett & Kerrigan to discuss your legal issues.