This article was written by Hance Law Group associate attorney Beverly Via.
When parents of a child get divorced in Texas and continue to live in Texas, the rules governing parenting time and child support are fairly clear-cut. The divorce decree lays out the parenting schedule, and the Child Support Divisions of the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) monitors child support and can be called up to assist with most enforcement or modification child support matters for the custodial parent.
But what happens if one of the parents moves out of state? What if a parent moves out of state with the child in question? What if both parents move away from the state where the original divorce decree was established? These questions, given that we have a mobile society, do come up, and are best answered with the assistance of a family lawyer familiar with resolving cases involving out-of-state judgments.
Because individual states have their own specific rules and oversights regarding child custody and child support issues, it can be a challenge to reconcile these issues in the courts. I’ve worked on more than one case involving an out-of-state judgment in which I’ve had to coordinate with a lawyer with “boots on the ground” in another state to resolve the case.
In Texas, the procedure to handle parenting time issues arising from an out-of-state judgment is governed by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (found in Chapter 152 of the Texas Family Code), and child support issues arising from an out-of-state judgment are overseen by the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (found in Chapter 159 of the Texas Family Code).
The “uniform” part of the law refers to the Uniform Law Commission, a group of lawyers from multiple states that come together to create what their website terms as “non-partisan, well conceived, and well drafted legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of state statutory law.” The recommended law is then adopted by the legislature of a state.
The goal is for the laws governing issues arising from out-of-state judgments in Texas to be similar to the laws in many (but not all) states – which is good news for parents who are trying to navigate between two or more states.
The first step for a parent who has moved to Texas and wants to modify or enforce a custody order or child support order (or both) is to register the out-of-state judgment in Texas courts – which is officially known as a “registration of foreign order.” Only after the out-of-state judgment, or foreign order, is registered can a Texas court even consider setting a hearing on a modification or enforcement.
Except for an emergency situation requiring emergency jurisdiction, a child has to live in Texas for six months and a Texas court or court from the other state that rendered the out-of-state judgment determine that the original court no longer has jurisdiction, or that Texas would be a more convenient forum, or that the child and both of the child’s parents do not presently reside in the other state before a custody order from another state can be modified in Texas.
The modification of a child support order is a little different. If the parent paying child support (the non-custodial parent or the “Obligor”) does not live in Texas but agrees, a child support change can be accomplished in Texas, but it is more likely that a child support modification would need to be filed by the parent receiving child support (the custodial parent or the “Obligee”) either in the state where the original ruling was made or in the state where the Obligor currently resides.
In some instances, a state could decline its jurisdiction to a case and allow the case to be settled in Texas, but that has to be done by the specific family court where the original orders were approved.
If the Obligee and his or her child are living in Texas and considering the enforcement of a child support order against the Obligor – assuming the divorce happened in Texas – the Obligee should file in Texas with the help of his or her attorney or an attorney with the OAG’s child support office, but enforcement would be coordinated between the Obligee’s lawyer or the Texas OAG and the state where the Obligor is living. (If the divorce happened in another state, enforcement has to start there, regardless of where each parent is living.)
While the examples I’ve listed are the most common categories where out-of-state judgments apply, they’re not the only ones. It’s an area of the law that is clearly fascinating, but can be complicated and require an attorney who has the knowledge and the willingness to work with attorneys and judges in multiple states, if needed. It is entirely possible that a child could be the subject of both a Texas court order for child custody and a court order from another state for child support. Hopefully, any modification and enforcement issues resolve relatively easily – but as I’ve seen firsthand, there are no guarantees when you’re working across state lines.