Child support obligee can contest obligor’s statement of zero child support arrears owed under Arizona Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (AUIFSA) despite failure to file her hearing request within 20 days after receiving notice of obligor’s registration in Arizona of an out-of-state child support order.
The Arizona Supreme Court granted review because its statutory interpretation of the Arizona Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (AUIFSA) had statewide importance. Holding in favor of the mother as child support obligee, the supreme court vacated the Arizona Court of Appeals decision; and reversed the family court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Registration of Out-of-State Child Support Order in Arizona
The party who challenges a statement of child support arrears – obligor or obligee – could make a difference with Arizona registration of an out-of-state child support order.
Thomas Pandola, the father and child support obligor, registered a 2004 Illinois child support order in Arizona in August of 2014. He further stated he was unaware of any arrears owed the mother at the time of registration.
Tiffany E. Taylor, the mother and child support obligee, accepted service of the father’s registration in September 2014. In October of that year, the father filed his proposed judgment stating no arrears where owed. That November, the mother contested father’s statement of “zero dollars” owed in arrears.
The family court denied the mother’s hearing-request finding it was time-barred under the AUIFSA given she filed it more than 20 days after accepting service of the child support order’s registration. The court confirmed father’s proposed judgment with zero arrears owed through August 2014. The mother appealed.
The Arizona Court of Appeals held that the mother as obligee did not file her objection to obligor’s zero arrears statement timely as required by statute. However, the appeals court held she was not barred from “contesting the allegations in Father’s arrears statement.”
Arizona Supreme Court Interprets Foreign Child Support Registration Law
In this case of statutory interpretation, the issue was whether a child support obligee may contest the registering obligor’s arrears statement beyond the AUIFSA’s 20-day objection period after receiving proper notice of registration.
In part, ARS § 25-1305(B)(2) states that any hearing to “contest the validity or enforcement of the registered order must be requested within 20 days after the date of mailing or personal service of the notice.” Thereafter, the parent cannot contest the registered foreign child support order, which the court may confirm along with any alleged arrearages. But there are different options available to obligees and obligors under the AUIFSA.
Parents may register out-of-state income withholding orders or foreign child support orders in Arizona. This makes it easier for them to seek court enforcement here, among other things. The AUIFSA governs the process of registering those family support orders, covering current support as well as child support arrearages. ARS § 25-1301 through § 25-1308. Registration involves filing the support order with the Arizona court. If valid in the jurisdiction where issued, then such out-of-state income withholding order or foreign support order is fully enforceable in this state as though it had been issued by an Arizona court.
Although Arizona law governs the procedures and remedies applicable to enforce current support and collect arrears (plus interest), there is more to consider. Substantively, the law of the issuing jurisdiction governs the nature, extent, amount, duration of current payments, computation of arrearages, and accrued interest. And whether the child support order exists or has been satisfied. Also, the longer statute of limitations period, Arizona’s or the issuing state’s, applies to proceedings for past due child support. ARS § 25-1304.
Importantly, the non-registering parent who objects to the registration must contest the registered-order’s validity or enforcement in a timely fashion by requesting a court hearing. Otherwise, the order is automatically confirmed by operation of law. ARS § 25-1306. Once the order is confirmed, either by operation of law or by a judge after notice and hearing, there are no options remaining for the objecting, non-registering parent.
20-Day Challenge Period Not Absolute Bar
The Arizona Supreme Court held that certain objections may be made outside the AUIFSA’s 20-day period, depending upon the actual challenge being made. Only those matters that “could have been asserted at the time of registration” must be filed within 20 days, while others need not be.
More specifically, ARS § 25-1307 lists the legal matters and defenses that can be asserted at the time of registration. Of those statutory defenses to registration, some apply only to obligors. The AUIFSA does not specify any hearing-request time-limit when it is the obligee who disputes the obligor’s understated amount of arrears owed.
In the absence of Arizona precedent, the supreme court looked to California case law for guidance. In de Leon v. Jenkins, 49 Cal. Rptr. 3d 145 (Cal. Ct. App. 2006), the California Court of Appeals interpreted that state’s registration statute, which was identical to Arizona’s, as not barring the obligee’s post-registration challenge to the obligor’s statement of arrears. The reason being that California’s UIFSA (and Arizona’s parallel AUIFSA) does not provide an obligee with a statutory objection based upon obligor’s understated arrears at the time of registration. Therefore, the non-registering obligee was not required to contest the matter by requesting a court hearing within the 20-day time period.
Rejecting father’s alternative interpretation of the AUIFSA registration law, the supreme court held the mother’s challenge to his statement of zero arrears was not time-barred.
Taylor v. Pandola, CV-16-0240-PR (Ariz. Jan. 26, 2018)
For precise language, read the court’s original opinion. Legal citations omitted.
To learn more about registering out-of-state child support orders in Arizona law, consult an experienced family law attorney with Stewart Law Group.