Where Do You Modify An Alimony Order When Neither Party Lives In The State That Entered The Order?

A client recently asked us for assistance modifying his New Jersey alimony order. He and his spouse divorced in New Jersey and the court issued an alimony order. Post-separation, both parties moved to Pennsylvania. A change in circumstances prompted the client to seek modification of the existing order. Unfortunately, the law mandates that the parties must return to the New Jersey Court that issued the original order.

Just when you thought you were out, they keep pulling you back in!

Many individuals going through divorce move out state in hopes of getting a fresh start; however, modification of an existing alimony order can be a rude awakening.

Pursuant to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (“UIFSA”) exclusive jurisdiction over alimony orders remains with the state court that entered the order.

The UIFSA is recognized in all 50 states. It states in part:  “A tribunal of this State issuing a support order consistent with the law of this State has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over a spousal support order throughout the existence of the support obligation. A tribunal of this State may not modify a spousal support order issued by a tribunal of another state having continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over that order under the law of that State.”  23 Pa.C.S.A. § 7205(f).

Therefore, if you wish to modify your existing alimony order, you must do so in the state court that issued the original order, even if you no longer live in that state.

Although the UIFSA was designed to promote efficiency in the court system and assist in resolving jurisdictional disputes, it may result in a huge inconvenience to you. Due to this law, our office had to refer the above-mentioned client to a New Jersey attorney.

While Bucks County courts have recognized the burden this law may place upon parties in a divorce action, they have held firm in following the terms of the UIFSA. In Hibbitts v. Hibbitts, a case just like the one our office encountered, the Bucks County Court refused to modify an alimony order that was initially issued by Monmouth County Superior Court of New Jersey after Husband moved to Pennsylvania and Wife moved to Vermont.

This jurisdictional rule, however, does not apply to child support orders or child custody orders.

The UIFSA assigns different rules to the enforcement of child support orders, including the option for other state courts to modify orders. Additionally, enforcement and modification of child custody orders is regulated by an entirely separate law, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).

Keep in mind that modification of an existing alimony order will force you to return to the state court that issued the order, no matter how inconvenient. It’s best to be prepared and plan accordingly. If you have a jurisdictional issue involving alimony, child support or child custody, you should get in contact with us. The attorneys at Cooley & Handy can help you navigate this complex area of family law.