In the world of family law, two of the toughest fact patterns to untangle are assets re-titled between parties, and establishing jurisdiction over support orders when parties relocate across state lines. Moncrief is from the latter category of complexities; it is a child support case that wended its way down the Eastern Seaboard.
In Moncrief, the court order flip-flopped from New York to North Carolina and back, before finally making its way to the Virginia Court of Appeals. In his opinion published October 9, 2012, Judge Glen Huff concluded that the North Carolina order (the “Order”) domesticated in Virginia (where the dad lived) is the “controlling” order under VA Code § 20-88.41(B)(1).
But – and this is the unusual part — the duration of the child support obligation is “until age 21” under New York law; even though child support ends at age 18 in North Carolina and the Order is silent as to the duration of the child support!
Understanding this ruling is critical if you ever bring to Virginia a support order from another state. Here is what happened in Moncrief:
1. Mom got a child support order in New York that incorporated the parents’ settlement agreement. Their agreement said it could be modified anywhere.
2. Mom and child moved to North Carolina, and dad moves to Virginia.
3. The parents entered into a North Carolina consent order, changing the support amount and visitation. The North Carolina order declares that it is modifying the New York order because the child lives in North Carolina. The North Carolina order says anything in the New York order that is not modified in the North Carolina order is incorporated by reference and remains in force. And, as I mentioned earlier, the North Carolina order says nothing about age of majority (21 in New York, but only 18 in North Carolina).
4. Mom and child move back to New York. They go to court and try to modify the support again.
5. New York says it can’t do it. There can only be one support order at a time, and when North Carolina ruled, its ruling became the support order.
6. Mom domesticates the North Carolina order in New York. Now, New York is willing to enforce the North Carolina order.
7. The Virginia Department of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) files the North Carolina order and tries to collect child support from the dad. The dad challenges DCSE in juvenile court, circuit court and the court of appeals, saying that support ended at 18 according to North Carolina law, and you must apply North Carolina law if that state has the controlling order.
8. Our Virginia court of appeals verifies that New York lost jurisdiction, and
North Carolina continues to have jurisdiction, under the laws of each of those states. Therefore, the Order is a valid order.
9. Next, the court of appeals swats away the DCSE technical arguments about dad’s appeal (Rules 5A:18 and 5A:20), saying that the dad came close enough to following the rules when he referenced an entire 45-paged transcript instead of a particular page.
10. But the court of appeals was only giving dad a pass on his procedural mistakes to set him up for losing on the merits. Remember that anything not changed in North Carolina, remained as it was in the New York order? I mentioned that in paragraph 3, above. The duration of child support is one of those items. It remained as it was in New York, payable until age 21!
I commend the court of appeals for this decision unraveling a complicated set of facts to reach a simple, understandable and logically satisfying outcome. In doing this, of course, the court has reaffirmed my contention that in family cases appellants usually do not win.