The Lawletter Vol 37 No 2
One of the frequently overlooked sections of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act ("UIFSA") provides that an award of spousal support can be modified only in the court in which the original order was entered.
The purpose of UIFSA is to provide a means for interstate enforcement of support orders and to address the problem of conflicting support orders by placing continuing exclusive jurisdiction to modify a child support order in the court that has issued the original order so long as the payor, the payee, or the child is still a resident of the original state, or if all parties have consented to the exercise of continuing jurisdiction. The detailed provisions of the Act govern the enforcement and modification of child support provisions in cases in which all parties have left the original jurisdiction. The provisions of the Act can be found at Uniform Interstate Family Support Act 2008 §§ 101-905.
Under 42 U.S.C. § 666, which took effect in 1996, States were required to adopt UIFSA by January 1, 1998 or face loss of federal funding for child support enforcement. Every U.S. State has adopted either the 1996 or a later version of UIFSA, though with some variations.
One of the provisions that is contained in the Act, but has not been universally adopted by the States, is § 211, titled "Continuing, Exclusive Jurisdiction to Modify Spousal-Support Order." That section provides:
(a) A tribunal of this state issuing a spousal-support order consistent with the law of this state has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to modify the spousal-support order throughout the existence of the support obligation.
(b) A tribunal of this state may not modify a spousal-support order issued by a tribunal of another state or a foreign country having continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over that order under the law of that state or foreign country.
(c) A tribunal of this state that has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over a spousal-support order may serve as:
(1) an initiating tribunal to request a tribunal of another state to enforce the spousal-support order issued in this state; or
(2) a responding tribunal to enforce or modify its own spousal-support order.
Unif. Interstate Family Support Act 2008 § 211 (emphasis added).
Unlike the child support provisions, which provide a means for transferring jurisdiction if all parties have left the State that issued the original order, § 211 states that continuing exclusive jurisdiction to modify spousal support exists only in the court that issued the original order.
A recent case that demonstrates the impact of this provision is Sootin v. Sootin, 41 So. 3d 993 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2010). In Sootin, the parties were divorced in Florida in 1998, and the Florida court ordered the husband to pay permanent alimony. The wife subsequently moved to Tennessee. The husband later also moved to Tennessee. He then filed a petition in a Tennessee court to register and modify the Florida judgment.
The wife moved to dismiss the petition, arguing lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Both Tennessee and Florida have adopted the language contained in § 211 quoted above. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-2211; Fla. Stat. § 88.2111. During a telephone conference, the Florida judge decided to transfer the cause to Tennessee, and the wife appealed from the transfer order.Citing the provisions of UIFSA, adopted in Florida and Tennessee, that gave Florida exclusive jurisdiction to modify the spousal support order, the Florida appellate court reversed the transfer order, stating: "Despite the obvious logic of allowing the two former spouses now living in Tennessee to resolve their dispute there, we must reverse. Under UIFSA, the [Florida] court has 'continuing exclusive jurisdiction over a spousal support order throughout the existence of the support obligation.' [Fla. Stat.] § 88.2051(6) (emphasis added)." Sootin, 41 So. 3d at 994.