If a non-custodial parent moves out of state, or already lives out of state, rest assured you can still get the child support your children need. Having one parent live in a different state can make the process trickier, but there are ways to find your ex and make sure they pay child support. Family court orders are enforceable across state borders, so it does not matter where a parent lives. Child support services can help you, and family court judges can hold your ex in contempt of court or enforce any existing child support order. If there is not already a court order in place, then you need to file with the state you live in now before seeking child support from someone out of state.
First Steps To Enforcing Child Support Payments
No matter where the custodial parent lives, they have many options for going about this process. This can be an easy process or a difficult one, depending on whether your ex is cooperating or trying to hide.
Your first steps may include:
• Finding out the other parent’s current address from relatives or friends
• Hiring a private investigator
• Using locator resources from your local child support office
These would all be viable options if your ex did not tell you where they were moving. Under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), sometimes called “Interstate Action,” states must help you find your ex for missing child support. This act also prevents multiple states from ordering child support and helps you find the other parent if they move away.
Child Support State Services: The Basics
You can choose to work with your local Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) or directly with your state. Generally, you should pick one of these options and not both, so there are not duplicate cases in progress. In some states, you may need to start the process with your CSEA, and they will refer it to the state.
It is essential to know that the state you live in is the “initiating state,” and they will contact the “responding state” as the case progresses. You do not need to contact the state your ex moved to — only the state or CSEA office in the state you live in.
Using Parent Locator Services
Every state has a parent locator services. The local child support offices have access to resources such as:
• Federal new hire data
• State new hire data
• Driver’s license change of address information
• Unemployment insurance information
• Worker’s compensation filing
• Criminal and civil court records
• Credit bureau data
• Bureau of Motor Vehicles or DMV information
• Public assistance applications (such as applying for food stamps)
Essentially, if your ex tries to work, get a place to live, use a credit card, or apply for government assistance, agencies can find them. Once the other parent’s address is found, the courts have a way to contact them, and the enforcement of child support can begin.
Using Your Ex’s New Job for Child Support Payments
An easy way to enforce child support orders when the other parent is out of state is to garnish wages. You can have the courts send a garnishment order directly to the other parent’s employer, and the child support will come straight out of their paycheck.
Under federal law, all employers must honor child support garnishment orders from other states. Your ex’s employer can’t refuse to garnish an employee’s wages for child support just because the garnishment order comes from another state.
Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA)
Every state has passed some version of the UIFSA. This law is designed specifically to enforce child support orders from one state against a parent who lives in another state. Filing a claim under UIFSA usually involves hiring an attorney or working with your local child support office. It enables you to contact relevant people in the other parent’s state to enforce your child support order, such as:
• The state’s local courts
• Child support agencies
• The other parent’s attorney
The courts and authorities in the other state must enforce your child support order — just as if it was created in that state. This can take time, so it is helpful to start the process right away. It can take months or over a year to get child support cases to court when legal action is needed.
Pressing Charges for Unpaid Child Support
Many states also have criminal laws that address unpaid child support orders. If a parent refuses to pay child support as ordered, you can take action. However, if they cannot pay because of financial issues, there are other paths to take that do not involve criminal charges. You or an attorney can contact your local prosecutor’s or district attorney’s office. They can file criminal “nonsupport” charges against the other parent, even if they live in another state.
Extraditing a Parent Back to Your State
In some cases, your state can “extradite” or bring the other parent back to your state, but only if they are charged with a child support crime.
The felony nonsupport charges vary state by state, and can result in:
• Jail or prison time
• Home detention or house arrest
The process will involve steps to find the parent and use strategies to get your children’s support money. Rest assured that crossing state lines will not stop your ex from paying the child support your family needs.
Understanding Child Custody Laws in Utah
Some parents who file for divorce may seek full custody of their children. While Utah laws do not recognize or use the term “full custody,” parents can file a petition for “sole legal/physical custody.” Here’s what you need to know about gaining sole legal/physical custody of your children in Utah.
What is Sole Legal & Sole Physical Custody?
Sole legal custody means the custodial parent is the primary decision-maker regarding the well-being of the child. With sole physical custody, the minor children will live with the custodial parent more than 255 overnights each year. The non-custodial parent will be permitted to spend time with minor children as per an agreement between both parents. In the case where parents disagree on a parent-time schedule, one will be ordered by the court.
A parent-time schedule is the minimum amount of time the non-custodial parent is entitled. The non-custodial parent will be responsible for making decisions during the time they are with the child.
How is Sole Legal Custody Determined?
This is generally the arrangement parents strive for when they seek “full custody.” There are many types of child custody arrangements, and there several factors that the courts will examine when making a custody decision.
• The moral and financial conduct of each parent
• The child’s relationship with each parent
• Each parent’s capability and desire to care for the children
• Each parent’s willingness to allow continuous and frequent contact with the children
• The children’s relationship with extended family members and the significant impact on their best interests.
In child custody cases, the courts will also consider any evidence of domestic violence, neglect, and physical, sexual, or emotional abuse that involves the child, parent, or other household members of the parent.
Filing for Sole Legal Custody
First, every child custody case must start with a court-filed petition and state your case as to why you should be granted sole legal custody. Filing for custody is complex, and the laws can be challenging to understand without legal assistance. Having an experienced lawyer on your side can help you make the right decisions regarding your children’s best interests.
Utah Child Custody Laws
There are more children of separated or divorced parents in the United States today than ever before. With all of the emotion involved in a separation or divorce, parents sometimes fail to consider their children’s desires when making custody decisions. However, under Utah custody laws judges often consider an older child’s preference when determining custody.
Physical and Legal Custody in Utah
Parents can work out their own custody arrangements or go to Utah family court and have a judge decide their case. In either situation, a custody order must address both physical and legal custody and meets a child’s needs.
“Physical custody” is where the child lives. A parent with physical custody primarily lives with the child. Parents can share physical custody (called “joint physical custody”) or one parent may have “sole” or “primary” physical custody.
Your custody order will dictate how much time each parent spends with the child. Parents with joint physical custody will spend substantial, but not necessarily equal amounts of time with the child. The parent who spends the most time with the child is typically designated as the “custodial parent”. The other parent is called the “noncustodial parent.”
“Legal custody” refers to a parent’s right to make major educational, medical, religious, legal, or cultural decisions on the child’s behalf. Like physical custody, parents can share legal custody or one parent may have sole decision-making power over the child. In situations where parents share legal custody, the custodial parent will still have the final say on decisions where the parents can’t agree.
Establishing Visitation Schedules
Under Utah custody laws, your custody order must set forth a visitation schedule covering weekly, monthly, holiday, and summer visits. Both parents are entitled to regular time with their child and neither parent can prevent visits. Even in cases where a parent has struggled with substance abuse or physical violence, a judge may award that parent visitation – usually supervised.
A noncustodial parent without joint custody is entitled to minimum visitation under Utah’s custody laws. Generally, this equates to one weeknight per week with the child and overnight visits every other weekend. A judge can award a parent additional visitation time, but not less. The Utah Courts website provides more information on child custody and parent-time in Utah.
In limited circumstances where a child’s safety and well-being at issue, a judge may grant one parent only supervised visits. Supervised visits take place at a designated location or agency. A parent will be required to have his or her visits supervised until a judge can be sure a child is safe in that parent’s care.
In situations where parents share legal custody, the custodial parent will still have the final say on decisions where the parents can’t agree.
Best Interests of the Child Factors in Utah
Utah courts decide child custody whenever parents can’t come to an agreement on their own. Yet even in cases where parents agree on custody and visitation, a judge will review a custody agreement to ensure it serves a child’s best interests. Utah family courts must consider several factors when deciding child custody in Utah, including:
• the child’s physical and emotional needs
• the child’s relationship with each parent
• the distance between the parents’ residences
• each parent’s physical and mental health
• the child’s ties to the community, sibling relationships, and relationships with extended family members
• each parent’s willingness to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent
• either parent’s history of domestic violence
• the child’s preference if of a sufficient age and maturity, and
• any other factor the court deems relevant to custody.
When Will the Utah Family Court Consider a Child’s Preference?
A child’s preference is one of several factors a judge will weigh in a Utah custody case. The child’s age and maturity matters. Specifically, a judge will give more weight to an older child’s preference, such as a child over 14. Generally, a judge won’t give much consideration to a child’s wishes if the child is under 10. In one Utah family court case, an 11-year old boy stated a preference to live with his father, but the judge said that an 11-year old shouldn’t have control over where he lives.
Judges will also look at the reasons a child prefers to live with one parent over the other. In one case, a father with custody of two boys moved them from their hometown and away from their school, friends, and other family members. The children wanted to live with their mother to be close to friends and family, and to continue going to the school they knew. The court found that these were valid reasons to want to live with their mother and gave the children’s preferences significant weight in the custody decision.
On the other hand, if a child’s reasons for wanting to live one parent are immature, for example, because one parent is laxer with discipline or gives them lavish gifts, the judge won’t give the child’s preference much weight.
Keep in mind that even if a child has a strong custodial preference, it won’t be the controlling factor in a court’s decision. A judge can always overrule a child’s preference if it’s in the child’s best interest to live with the non-preferred parent.
Judges will also watch to see if parents have coached their children. In one case, a judge questioned the children and discovered that their mother had told them to lie about her boyfriend’s overnight visits in their home. The mother’s coaching was a major factor in the judge’s decision to transfer custody to the father.
Do Children Have to Testify About Their Custodial Preferences in Court?
In Utah, children can’t testify in court unless there are extenuating circumstances, and there’s no other way to obtain their testimony. Instead, judges usually interview children in court chambers to determine their custodial preferences. Normally, the court will ask the parents for permission to interview a child, but parental consent isn’t necessary if the judge decides that an interview is the only way to figure out the child’s custodial desires. Parents can’t attend the in-chambers interview. The judge may or may not allow the parent’s attorneys to be present. Often, a court reporter will record the interview.
Courts can determine a child’s preference in other ways as well. In one case, the judge deciding custody considered letters written by two boys to their mom, stating that they wanted to live with her. Courts may also allow custody evaluators or mental health professionals to testify about what children have told them regarding their custodial preferences.
When Can I Modify Child Custody in Utah?
Life is full of changes, and after a few years your custody order may need an adjustment. Utah custody laws allow either parent to file a custody modification request if there’s been a material change in circumstances affecting the child or parents or more than 3 years have passed since entry of the previous custody order. In either situation, the parent requesting a custody change must show that the modification would serve the child’s best interests.
When considering whether a modification is appropriate, a judge will consider the same best interests’ factors as listed above. A judge will hold a court hearing to consider all the evidence. A child’s needs—not a parent’s wishes—will determine the outcome of your case. For example, a parent’s desire to relocate for a new job might not be enough to justify a change in custody. However, a custodial parents’ medical crisis might warrant switching custody to the other parent. The interplay of numerous factors will determine the outcome of your custody case. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should seek out a local family law attorney for advice.
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