Family Law Keyed to Weisbergback
Brief Fact Summary. Teresa, a resident of Tennessee, attempted to enroll a District of Columbia order and modify a child support award in Tennessee against a Steven, a resident of Virginia. He challenged the subject matter jurisdiction of the Tennessee Court.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A resident of Tennessee could not use the Tennessee courts to modify a support order issued in a foreign state against a nonresident of Tennessee.
Facts. In 1989 the District of Columbia entered an order adjudging Steven LeTellier to be the father of Teresa LeTellier’s son, Nicholas. The court awarded custody to Teresa and ordered Steven to pay child support. Teresa and Nicholas later moved to Tennessee, and Steven moved to Virginia. In 1998 Teresa filed petitions in the Juvenile Court in Tennessee seeking to enroll the District Court of Columbia order and to modify the child support award. The court granted Steven’s motion to dismiss on grounds that the Tennessee court lacked subject matter jurisdiction and ordered that the case be transferred back to Virginia. The Court of appeals reversed, finding that the jurisdictional provisions of Tennessee’s Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) conflict with the Federal Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act (FFCCSOA) and that FFCCSOA preempted UIFSA.
Issue. Does the UIFSA conflict with the FFCCSOA such that the FFCCSOA is controlling and grants subject matter jurisdiction in Tennessee?
Held. The statutes are not in conflict and Tennessee does not have subject matter jurisdiction over this case.
The UIFSA controls the establishment, enforcement, or modification of support orders across state lines. It recognizes that only one valid support order can be effective at any one time. Under the concept of continuing exclusive jurisdiction, no other state may modify that order as long as the issuing state has continuing exclusive jurisdiction.
In this case the District of Columbia lost continuing jurisdiction when Steven, Teresa, and Nicholas were no longer residents of the state. Because Teresa is a resident of Tennessee, she fails to meet the subject matter jurisdiction requirement of UIFSA.
Assertion of long-arm jurisdiction over a nonresident essentially results in a one-state proceeding. The out-of-state resident is no longer out-of-state for purposes of the action, and the law of the forum controls. Because this case retains its interstate character, UIFSA has no application in this case. An action to modify an out-of-state support order cannot be brought in the petitioner’s home state, thereby preventing a litigant from choosing to seek modification in a local tribunal to the disadvantage of the other party. The State which has personal jurisdiction will generally be the State of residence of the obligator.
Teresa also alleges the FFCCSOA confers jurisdiction and should control as federal law. It does not contain the non-resident requirement found in the UIFSA. However, there is a presumption that Congress did not intend to preempt the UIFSA, and the two were intended to be consistent. Using the traditional rules of statutory construction, the word jurisdiction in the FFCCSOA is ambiguous. A consistent reading requires jurisdiction under the FFCCSOA to be construed as referring to both personal and subject matter jurisdiction. The Tennessee courts do not have subject matter jurisdiction under these facts.
Discussion. The Court used statutory construction to determine that the FFCCSOA and UIFSA were not in conflict, and that a resident of Tennessee could not use the Tennessee courts to modify a support order issued in a foreign state against a nonresident of Tennessee.