Generally speaking, filing a suit in a state where someone does not live is considered a consent to be sued on related matters in that state. There is a common limitation on this rule. Child custody and child support proceedings filed in a state where the petitioner does not live are not enough to bring the force of the law to bear on other aspects of the relationship. A recent case from Idaho, Wilson v. King, No. 43086 (Idaho, June 1, 2016), <http://www.isc.idaho.gov/opinions/43086.pdf>, illustrates this principle.
The couple in question were divorced in Colorado. The wife moved to Idaho with the children, and the husband eventually moved to Wisconsin. Over the years, they litigated both modification and enforcement of the parenting plan and the amount of child support in Idaho.
The original divorce judgment from Colorado had awarded a portion of the husband’s military pension to the wife. When he retired and failed to make the necessary arrangements to divide the pension, she filed a motion in Idaho to enforce the division.
The primary question was whether the motion should have been heard in Idaho. The Idaho Supreme Court said no. Idaho, like all states, has a “long arm” law that sets forth the extent to which nonresidents may be sued in the state. Generally, participation in a suit is enough to allow suit over related matters.
This case was different. Every state also has two other laws discussing child custody and support cases. These laws are the same in all states because Congress conditioned related funding on their being passed. One sets forth procedures for deciding which state handles child custody and support disputes. The decision is based on where the child lived in the six months before the filing of the initial case. Once one state is established to hear cases regarding the child, it usually doesn’t change until everybody involved leaves the state. This law includes a statement that participation in a child custody or support case does not extend the reach of the state’s courts beyond that case. Similarly, the second relevant law governs interstate collection of child support. That law also states that participating in a proceeding under the law does not extend the power of the state’s courts beyond that case.
In reading both of these laws, the court decided that enforcement of a property award was not part of the proceedings to modify or enforce the parenting plan or child support. The primary reason for this is that the law regarding jurisdiction of child custody and child support requires jurisdiction to be exercised over children in only one state at a time. Implicit in this reasoning is that when the child has been taken by one parent to a new state, it is not fair to allow the new state to reach the other parent on matters not closely related to the child. As a result, the wife will have to pursue her claim to the pension in either Colorado or Wisconsin.
If your former partner brings your children to a new state, you can safely enforce rulings regarding custody and support without fear that you can be sued for something else, even a property division order. (Assuming that there are proceedings in your state first.) If you are the parent moving to the other state, you should be aware you may have to enforce existing orders other than custody and support in the original state.