COURT UPDATE! Court Rules Deadlines Matter for Child Support Arrears Case
Photo by Gabby K.
Deadlines matter! In a new case, Marriage of Sawyer ((2020) 57 Cal. App. 5th 724) dad failed to timely challenge an out of state child support order and saw his arrears jump to six figures!
Here are the facts. Dad and mom lived in Minnesota with their kids and then divorced. Mom got a child support order in 1989 and dad didn’t keep up with his payments. By 1991 he owed $12,000.
Subsequently dad moved to California. His son stayed with him for several years. Again, he didn’t keep up with his payments or modify custody and support until 2001.
Mom got a judgment of child support arrears filed in Minnesota in 2001and support arrears had jumped to $89,582.15! Dad was represented by counsel at the hearing that set the arrears. He did not personally appear.
In 2005, mom registered the support order in California since dad still had not paid his support. Dad had a tight window of time – 25 days – to contest the order. He did not do so.
This is where everything fell apart.
Between 2007 and 2009 dad contested the support order in Minnesota but was rebuffed. They didn’t want to relitigate a case that had been decided solidly years before.
Mom registered the Minnesota order in California in 2009.
Guess what – his arrears were now $98,476.19!
Dad didn’t contest the order.
Things continued to go south.
Child support services in California went after dad for contempt in 2013 for not paying his support. Contempt has financial and criminal consequences. At this point dad woke up and tried contesting the order. This was too little, too late and dad lost his motion to vacate the Minnesota order.
The Minnesota court then followed up with a further order in 2018 setting arrears at 139,990.21!
In California, dad argued that Minnesota did not have personal jurisdiction over him anymore because he lived in California and that he had not heard of the 2005 order for several years.
The trial court sustained most of the support order but gave dad a credit for the years he had custody of the child in California.
This went up on appeal and the appellate court reversed the trial court. It hammered home the point that deadlines really matter under the applicable laws.
The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), now codified at Family Code sections 5700.101 et seq.,7 was enacted in California in 1997. The goal of UIFSA is to ensure that only one valid support order may be effective at any one time even though the parties and their children may move from state to state. Together with the Federal Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act (FFCCSOA) (28 U.S.C. § 1738B), the UIFSA ensures that in every case only one state exercises jurisdiction over child support at any given time.
The UIFSA allows a support order from another state to be registered for enforcement in California. When the arrears order at issue here was registered in California in 2005, former section 4955 (now codified at section 5700.606) stated: “(a) A nonregistering party seeking to contest the validity or enforcement of a registered order in this state shall request a hearing within 20 days after notice of the registration. If the nonregistering party fails to contest the validity or enforcement of the registered order in a timely manner, the order is confirmed by operation of law.
That’s right – contest the order within 20 days or your’re out of luck.
The court of appeals didn’t buy dad’s vague arguments that he did not know about the order for several years because he had an attorney at the hearing that set the order. The court also did not give any weight to the personal jurisdiction argument. Dad had a foot in the door in Minnesota because he had an attorney there and his former family.
Not only did dad lose his case, but he also lost the credit the trial court gave him for the time he had his child in his custody. This is a truly sad result, since child support can go down if you have more time with your child. Dad sat on his hands too many times.
In summary – meet your deadlines!
Are child support arrears piling up? Get on top of it by scheduling a free initial consultation with the Law Offices of Jane Migachyov now.