As noted by Robert Epstein in his blog post from earlier today, issues surrounding jurisdiction are often complicated and fact-specific. Luckily, in the recent published decision (precedential) Johnson v. Bradshaw, the Court was able to draw a clear line regarding jurisdiction over support orders for parties that no longer reside in New Jersey.
The central facts of the case are not in dispute. The parties were never married but a child was born from their relationship in October of 2010. At the time the child was born, the defendant was a running back for the New York Giants and was residing in New Jersey. Plaintiff and the parties’ child resided in Virginia and have since never lived in New Jersey.
Shortly after the child was born, plaintiff filed a Complaint in June of 2011 in New Jersey seeking to establish child support from the defendant. A hearing was held on the issue of child support and the court set a pendente lite (temporary interim award pending further litigation) award of monthly child support in December of 2011. Although the award was meant to be temporary in nature, neither party requested a future court date or a discovery (exchange of documents) schedule.
Eventually the parties did agree to engage in discovery and plaintiff then sought a modification of the temporary pendente lite child support order. Since the time of the initial hearing however, the defendant was released from the New York Giants and became an unrestricted free agent, eventually signing with the Indianapolis Colts on June 11, 2013. Defendant then purchased a home in Virginia and no longer resided in New Jersey. Based on the fact that neither party continued to reside in New Jersey, defendant’s attorney sought to dismiss the New Jersey action on the basis that New Jersey no longer had continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over the issue of child support.
As such, the main issue in this matter was whether the New Jersey maintained continuing, exclusive jurisdiction of the defendant’s support obligation after the defendant left New Jersey under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (“UIFSA” – which is enacted to assist states in the establishment, enforcement and modification of support orders for parties that reside in different states).
The Court found that under the mandates of UIFSA, New Jersey, as the only state that ever entered a support obligation, maintained jurisdiction to enforce the provisions of the temporary order entered in December of 2011. In contrast however, the Court, relying on the legislative comments to UIFSA, held that an issuing state (here New Jersey) cannot modify a child support order after all the parties have left that state. As a result, the Court determined it could not adjudicate plaintiff’s request for a modification of the December 2011 order because both the mother and father no longer reside in New Jersey.
The Court further noted that even if jurisdiction were appropriate in this matter, the case should still not be heard in New Jersey under the doctrine of forum non coneniens given that to do so would have required both parties to litigate in a state in which they no longer reside.
While this case resulted in a rather straightforward result, any time litigants reside in different states and have ongoing issues concerning support and custody issues, it is imperative to seek experienced matrimonial counsel in order to ensure you are filing your application in the proper jurisdiction.
Lauren K. Beaver is an attorney in Fox Rothschild LLP’s Family Law Practice Group. Lauren practices in the firm’s Princeton, New Jersey office representing clients on issues relating to divorce, custody, parenting time, support and equitable distribution. Lauren can be reached at (609) 844-3027 or firstname.lastname@example.org.