BEVERLY STUDER v. JOHN CARL STUDER, SC 19508

Judicial District of Fairfield

 

      Dissolution of Marriage; Conflict of Laws; Whether Enforcement of Foreign Matrimonial Judgments Act or Uniform Interstate Family Support Act Dictates Law to be Applied in this Connecticut Proceeding for Modification of Foreign Child Support Orders.  The parties divorced in Florida and the Florida judgment ordered that the defendant pay child support.  The parties subsequently moved to Connecticut and, in 2003, the divorce judgment was registered in Connecticut pursuant to General Statutes § 46b-70 (a) of the Enforcement of Foreign Matrimonial Judgments Act.  Section 46b-71 (b) of the act provides that a foreign judgment shall be enforced "in the same manner as a judgment of a court in this state" as long as public policy is not contravened and that, in modifying the judgment, "the substantive law of the foreign jurisdiction shall be controlling."  The defendant's child support obligation, as set forth in the judgment, was modified by the court in 2003 and again in 2010.  In its 2010 order, the trial court ordered the defendant to pay child support for the parties’ disabled minor child until 2013, when the child was expected to graduate from high school at the age of twenty-one.  The order was based on Florida law, which permits the extension of support for a child with a disability beyond the age of eighteen in certain circumstances.  In 2013, the plaintiff filed a motion to extend the defendant’s support obligation past high school, claiming the child would not be self-supporting upon graduation.  In opposing the motion, the defendant argued that Connecticut law governs the issue of duration of support and that Connecticut law provides that support for a disabled child terminates at age twenty-one.  He contended that Connecticut’s Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) controlled the choice of law issue and that § 46b-212h of UIFSA dictated that Connecticut courts have exclusive jurisdiction to modify the support order.  The defendant also relied on the federal Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act (full faith act), which provides that a state must apply its own substantive law to the modification of a foreign support order when the other state is no longer the child's state of residence.  The trial court concluded that § 46b-71 controlled and that Florida law applied, and it ordered that the 2010 child support order continue until further order of the court.  The court articulated that it did not need to find the presumptive child support amount because there was no allegation of a change in circumstances.  On appeal, the defendant argues that the trial court's determination on choice of law was improper and that Connecticut's substantive law is applicable pursuant to both UIFSA and the full faith act.  In particular, he contends that, under UIFSA, the law of the state having continuing exclusive jurisdiction over the support modification is to be applied and that Connecticut acquired continuing exclusive jurisdiction at the time of the initial Connecticut support order.  He also maintains that the trial court's extension of support past the child's graduation date was improper because the 2010 order resolved the duration of support issue and expired by its own terms.  Finally, the defendant contends that the trial court violated General Statutes § 46b-86 (a) in modifying the support order without making a finding of a substantial change in circumstances and that the order extending the duration of child support past the age of twenty-one violates Connecticut public policy.