The North Carolina Court of Appeals entered a ruling in the case of Crenshaw vs. Williams which came out of Mecklenburg County Family Court. This case involved a motion to modify child custody and a motion to modify child support. This case involved the registration of a foreign child custody and child support order in North Carolina for modification. This case illustrates important differences between North Carolina’s jurisdiction to register and modify a child custody decree and jurisdiction to register and modify a child support decree.
In this case, the parties had a prior Order from Michigan which addressed child custody and child support of the parties’ minor children. Ultimately, Father and the minor children lived in North Carolina with Father’s new wife while Mother lived in Georgia. Father registered the Michigan child custody and child support order in North Carolina and made a motion to modify child custody and a motion to modify child support. The trial court entered an order modifying child custody and modifying child support. Mother appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
With respect to the modification of child support, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) required that Father register the Michigan Order in Georgia to seek a modification. Since Mother was the obligor (the party who had to pay child support under the Michigan Order), UIFSA required that the Michigan Order be registered in Georgia. Georgia would then have the authority to modify the child support obligation, if it was appropriate.
With respect to the modification of child custody, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that the registration was appropriate under North Carolina General Statutes Section 50A-203(2) and that the North Carolina trial court, therefore, had subject matter jurisdiction to modify the foreign child custody Order from Michigan. Since North Carolina was the “home state” of the minor children, it was appropriate to register and modify that child support order in North Carolina. North Carolina law dictates that the “home state” of a minor child is the state in which the children have resided for the six months immediately prior to the filing of the action.
Mother attempted to argue that the child custody and child support determinations were too closely intertwined to be determined separately and, therefore, the trial court should not have determined the modification of child custody issue since it did not have jurisdiction to determine child support. The North Carolina Court of Appeals considered this argument and rejected it because there was ample evidence that the trial court considered beyond the respective financial positions of the parties which related to the best interests of the minor children.
The North Carolina trial court awarded the Father primary custody of the parties’ minor children. There were numerous findings of fact which demonstrated a substantial change in circumstances affecting the wellbeing of the minor children since the prior child custody order was entered in Michigan. The trial court also found numerous facts which supported its finding that awarding primary custody of the minor children to Father was in the best interests of the minor children.
This case seems to raise an important issue with respect to jurisdiction and judicial economy. As most people know, lawyers are pretty expensive and taking a case to trial can cost many thousands of dollars in attorney fees. In this case, it appears that the jurisdictionally appropriate way for the litigation to have occurred would have been for the Father, a North Carolina resident, to register the Michigan Order in Georgia to seek a modification of child support because that is where Mother lived and to register the Michigan Order in North Carolina to seek a modification of child custody because that was the “home state” of the minor child. This would require both parties, presumably, to have separate attorneys in both states and to litigate the cases in both places. It is easy to see how handling the case in this way would likely lead to significantly increased lawyer fees for both parties.
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