Because alimony and child support obligations are the result of state court orders and the orders are most often enforced by state and county agencies, enforcing such orders across state lines has been a long-standing problem. The bureaucratic red-tape involved in enforcing a California child support order, for example, after the child and his mother move to Mississippi was often nearly fatal to attempts to collect the money owed.
To deal with this issue, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws created the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (URESA) in 1950. This Act was designed to improve upon the Uniform Desertion and Non-Support Act of 1910 by allowing criminal and civil enforcement of support orders across state lines.
The idea was to enable parties to initiate legal action in their home state and the responding state would decide if the obligor (the person owing the money) actually had a duty to provide support. If so, the responding state would extradite the obligor back to the initiating state.
The problem with URESA, however, was that the responding state had only the evidence presented by the obligor himself. That is, when the ex-wife or mother initiated proceedings, she was not a party to the court hearings that took place in the responding state. As a result, the responding state often found in favor of the obligor, thus nullifying the intention of URESA.
In 1958, the Commission amended URESA and the Act became the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (RURESA). This Act improved upon URESA by allowing claimants to take support orders that were issued in one state and register them in other states so that if a husband or father fled to another jurisdiction, the order was still enforceable. In addition, the claimant had the opportunity to present her case to the responding court so that the court had both sides of the story before issuing a ruling.
This created a new problem, however, since each state has the ability to modify and enforce the order within the constraints of their own laws. And because the states differ in guidelines governing support issues, it became possible to have multiple orders in various states, each separate and enforceable on their own.
In 1992, the Commission drafted the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) which enhanced RURESA by requiring responding states to honor the initiating state’s continuing exclusive jurisdiction (CEJ), thereby prohibiting the responding states from modifying the original support order unless they can establish CEJ over the originating state. This Act was modified in 1996 and again in 2001.
UIFSA also provides a number of enforcement tactics including the ability for the custodial parent to require the obligated parent’s employer to withhold pay if necessary to satisfy the support order.
In 1996, the U.S. Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, requiring all states to adopt UIFSA by 1998 or lose federal funding for child support enforcement.
You may also be interested in this book about rights regarding child support, custody and visitation.