FROM THE ALABAMA LAWYER: Registration Required - A Roadmap to Registering Foreign Domestic Relations Judgments
Published on May 19, 2021
By Caleb A. Faulkner
Occasionally, a party to a domestic relations case encounters the need to register another state’s support or custody judgment in Alabama. This issue arises when a party seeks to file an action in Alabama to either enforce and/or modify a judgment entered by a foreign state.
To make sure that Alabama obtains subject matter jurisdiction over this, the divorce practitioner should be familiar with the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (known as the UIFSA) and the Uniform Child Custody and Enforcement Act (known as the UCCJEA).
“In order for a court to enforce or modify a child-support order from another state, the UIFSA requires that the foreign order be registered in Alabama.”
“Likewise, [t]he UCCJEA requires that a foreign custody judgment be registered in an Alabama trial court before that court may enforce or modify the terms of the custody or visitation award contained in with the foreign judgment.”
If a support judgment of another state or a custody judgment of another state is not registered in Alabama, Alabama courts subject matter jurisdiction of the matter.
This article examines the statutes and case law surrounding registration procedures under the UIFSA and the UCCJEA. We do not attempt to provide an all-inclusive guide to the registration of foreign judgments, but rather to highlight significant areas and requirements of both Acts and to point practitioners in the right direction so that Alabama can gain subject matter jurisdiction.
Statutory Components of the UIFSA
Under the UIFSA, Alabama allows “[a] support order or income-withholding order” of another state to be enforced in Alabama if the order has first been registered in Alabama.
Registration for Enforcement under the UIFSA
A comprehensive list of the information required to register a support order for enforcement in Alabama can be found in Ala Code § 30-3D-602(a) (1975):
Except as otherwise provided in Section 30-3D-706, a support order or income-withholding order of another state or a foreign support order may be registered in this state by sending the following records to the appropriate tribunal in this state:
- a letter of transmittal to the tribunal requesting registration and enforcement;
- two copies, including one certified copy, of the order to be registered, including any modification of the order;
- a sworn statement by the person requesting registration or a certified statement by the custodian of the records showing the amount of any arrearage;
- the name of the obligor and, if known:
- the obligor’s address and Social Security number;
- the name and address of the obligor’s employer and any other source of income of the obligor; and
- a description and the location of property of the obligor in this state not exempt from execution; and
- except as otherwise provided in Section 30-3D-312, the name and address of the obligee and, if applicable, the person to whom support payments are to be remitted.
Once a request for registration is made, the court in which the request is made must file the order as a foreign order, “together with one copy of the documents and information, regardless of their form.” In cases in which multiple orders are in place:
[T]he person requesting registration shall:
- furnish to the tribunal a copy of every support order asserted to be in effect in addition to the documents specified in this section;
- specify the order alleged to be the controlling order, if any; and
- specify the amount of consolidated arrears, if any.
If registration is sought in Alabama so that an enforcement pleading can be filed in an Alabama court, the pleading can be filed either at the same time as or after the request for registration is made. Further, in cases where there is confusion as to which support order is the current and controlling order, a party may also ask the court to determine which order is controlling; in those cases, the request can be made either independently or as a part of a request for registration and enforcement or modification. However, the requesting party must provide notice of this request to all parties who could be affected by such a determination. Once the requirements for registration are met, the Alabama court has the same ability to enforce and otherwise address the support order as it does with support orders issued by Alabama courts.
Registration for Modification under the UIFSA
Section 30-3D-609 states that if the order is not already registered, in order to either modify or modify and enforce a support order, the order must first be registered in the same way that an order must be registered for enforcement under the UIFSA. A petition to modify, which must state the grounds for the modification, can be filed either at the same time as or after the request for registration is made. Jurisdictional requirements for modification are found in § 30-3D-611 and § 30-3D-613. Once compliance with the requirements of either § 30-3D-611 or § 30-3D-613 are met, an Alabama court has the same authority to enforce another state’s support order as it does to enforce an Alabama court’s support order.
- Basis for Jurisdiction to Enforce and Modify a Support Order of Another State
Section 30-3D-613 states:
- If all of the parties who are individuals reside in this state and the child does not reside in the issuing state, a tribunal of this state has jurisdiction to enforce and to modify the issuing state’s child-support order in a proceeding to register that order.
- A tribunal of this state exercising jurisdiction under this section shall apply the provisions of Articles 1 and 2, this article, and the procedural and substantive law of this state to the proceeding for enforcement or modification. Articles 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8 do not apply.
On the other hand, § 30-3D-611(a) provides for jurisdiction in cases in which § 30-3D-613 is inapplicable:
- If Section 30-3D-613 does not apply, upon petition a tribunal of this state may modify a child-support order issued in another state which is registered in this state if, after notice and hearing, the tribunal finds that:
- (1) the following requirements are met:
- (A) neither the child, nor the obligee who is an individual, nor the obligor resides in the issuing state;
- (B) a petitioner who is a nonresident of this state seeks modification; and
- (C) the respondent is subject to the personal jurisdiction of the tribunal of this state; or
- (2) this state is the residence of the child, or a party who is an individual is subject to the personal jurisdiction of the tribunal of this state, and all of the parties who are individuals have filed consents in a record in the issuing tribunal for a tribunal of this state to modify the support order and assume continuing, exclusive jurisdiction.
- Modification under the UIFSA
For all procedural and enforcement purposes, modification under either § 30-3D-613 or § 30-3D-611(a) is treated the same as a modification of an order issued by an Alabama court would be. An Alabama court could not modify a support order that would be non-modifiable in the state that initially issued the order. Further, “[i]f two or more tribunals have issued child-support orders for the same obligor and same child, the order that controls and must be so recognized under Section 30-3D-207 establishes the aspects of the support order which are nonmodifiable.” Once the person responsible for making support payments satisfies the obligation imposed by the original support order, an Alabama court cannot increase or extend the payor’s duty. When an Alabama court modifies another state’s child support order, exclusive and continuing jurisdiction is bestowed upon Alabama courts.
Choice of Law under the UIFSA
When choice of law issues arise regarding the order, § 30-3D-604 provides guidance. The general rule is in subsection (a):
Except as otherwise provided in subsection (d), the law of the issuing state or foreign country governs:
- the nature, extent, amount, and duration of current payments under a registered support order;
- the computation and payment of arrearages and accrual of interest on the arrearages under the support order; and
- the existence and satisfaction of other obligations under the support order.
Subsection (d) states:
After a tribunal of this state or another state determines which is the controlling order and issues an order consolidating arrears, if any, a tribunal of this state shall prospectively apply the law of the state or foreign country issuing the controlling order, including its law on interest on arrears, on current and future support, and on consolidated arrears.
If arrears are sought in regard to a registered support order, the longest statute of limitations–between Alabama and the state in which the original order was issued–should be applied. In a case involving arrears under a foreign support judgment that is properly registered in Alabama, once the law of the issuing state is used to determine “the computation and payment of arrearages and accrual of interest on the arrearages under the support order” under § 30-3D-604(a)(2), an Alabama court must use and apply Alabama law “to enforce current support and collect arrears and interest due.”
In a modification action in Alabama, the duration of a support order is determined by the state that issued the original support order that is being modified.
Statutory Components of the UCCJEA
In regard to the UCCJEA, Alabama allows “[a] child custody determination issued by a court of another state” to be enforced in Alabama if the order has first been registered in Alabama.
Registration for Enforcement under the UCCJEA
A detailed description of the actions required to properly register a foreign custody determination can be found in § 30-3B-305(a):
A child custody determination issued by a court of another state may be registered in this state, with or without a simultaneous request for enforcement, by sending to the appropriate court in this state:
- A letter or other document requesting registration;
- Two copies, including one certified copy, of the determination sought to be registered, and a statement under penalty of perjury that to the best of the knowledge and belief of the person seeking registration the order has not been modified; and
- Except as otherwise provided in Section 30-3B-209, the name and address of the person seeking registration and any parent or person acting as a parent who has been awarded custody or visitation in the child custody determination sought to be registered.
Once the court receives the above documents, the court must file the custody determination as a foreign judgment “with one copy of any accompanying documents and information, regardless of their form.” The court must then serve notice upon anyone who has custody or visitation under the order being registered, who then has a chance to contest the validity of the other party’s registration. The notice must express that:
- A registered determination is enforceable as of the date of the registration in the same manner as a determination issued by a court of this state;
- A hearing to contest the validity of the registered determination must be requested within 30 days after service of notice; and
- Failure to contest the registration will result in confirmation of the child custody determination and preclude further contest of that determination with respect to any matter that could have been asserted.
A person who is served with such a notice and wishes to contest the validity of the registered order has 30 days from the date of service to request a hearing on the matter.
At that hearing, the court shall confirm the registered order unless the person contesting registration establishes that:
- The issuing court did not have jurisdiction under Article 2;
- The child custody determination sought to be registered has been vacated, stayed, or modified by a court having jurisdiction to do so under Article 2; or
- The person contesting registration was entitled to notice, but notice was not given in accordance with the standards of Section 30-3B-108, in the proceedings before the court that issued the order for which registration is sought.
If a hearing is not requested within 30 days, “the registration is confirmed as a matter of law” and all parties involved must be notified that the registration has been confirmed. Once registration has been confirmed, the registration cannot be contested any further as long as such contest is based on information that could have been asserted before confirmation. Once the registration requirements are complied with, Alabama courts have the same ability to enforce and otherwise address the custody determination as they do with custody determinations made by Alabama courts.
Jurisdiction for Modification under the UCCJEA
Further, § 30-3B-203 addresses an Alabama court’s jurisdiction to modify another state’s custody determination:
Except as otherwise provided in Section 30-3B-204, a court of this state may not modify a child custody determination made by a court of another state unless a court of this state has jurisdiction to make an initial determination under Section 30-3B-201(a)(1) or (2) and:
(1) The court of the other state determines it no longer has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction under Section 30-3B-202 or that a court of this state would be a more convenient forum under Section 30-3B-207; or
(2) A court of this state or a court of the other state determines that the child, the child’s parents, and any person acting as a parent do not presently reside in the other state.
Compliance with the UIFSA
Importantly, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has acknowledged “that substantial compliance with the registration requirements of the UIFSA is sufficient to afford an Alabama trial court subject-matter jurisdiction.”
‘Substantial compliance’ may be defined as ‘actual compliance in respect to substance essential to every reasonable objective,’ of a decree giving effect to equitable principles–equity–in the true meaning of that word. Substantial compliance means compliance which substantially, essentially, in the main, for the most part, satisfies the means of accomplishing the objectives sought to be effected by the decree and at the same time does complete equity.
Whether a statute is substantially complied with is dependent upon the specific facts of the case. The reason for the sufficiency of substantial compliance under the UIFSA seems to be an effort to avoid situations in which child support is not received by a custodial party who needs the support simply because every requirement was not perfectly and completely met. Further, “[t]he ‘UIFSA was created to identify ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of interstate child support enforcement by addressing interstate cases in a uniform manner,’” and “[r]equiring strict compliance with the registration statute does not further the purpose of the UIFSA.”
Compliance with the UCCJEA
As distinguishable from the UFISA, “substantial compliance” with the registration requirements of a foreign domestic order does not apply in regard to the UCCJEA. Rather, Alabama law is clear that registration requirements of a foreign judgment under the UCCJEA must be strictly complied with before a custody order can be enforced or modified by an Alabama court. If a judgment containing custody and visitation proceedings is not registered before filing a petition seeking enforcement of those visitation provisions, the trial court never acquires subject matter jurisdiction to enforce and modify those visitation and custody provisions. Any order of the trial court in a situation in which subject-matter jurisdiction is never acquired is void ab initio.
The registration processes of the UIFSA and the UCCJEA are similar in some ways and different in others.
It is imperative that practitioners understand the biggest procedural difference between the UIFSA and the UCCJEA: substantial compliance with registration requirements for support orders under the UIFSA is sufficient but strict compliance with registration requirements for custody determinations is required under the UCCJEA.
The registration of foreign judgments is a unique and statutory-based process that, while not very common, most domestic practitioners will encounter at some point. Fortunately, the UIFSA and the UCCJEA, as well as case law from Alabama appellate courts, offer a clear roadmap on how to navigate all issues relating to the registration and subsequent enforcement and/or modification of foreign domestic judgments.
 Ala. Code §§ 30-3D-101 to –902.
 Id. at §§ 30-3B-101 to –405.  Hummer v. Loftis, 276 So. 3d 215, 219 (Ala. Civ. App. 2018) (citing Ala. Code § 30-3D-601 (1975)).  Hummer v. Loftis, 276 So. 3d 215, 221 (Ala. Civ. App. 2018) (citing Ala. Code § 30-3B-306 (1975) and Krouse v. Youngblood, 171 So. 3d 49 (Ala. Civ. App. 2015)).  The definition of “support order” under the UIFSA includes not only child support but also spousal support. Ala. Code § 30-3D-102(28).  Hummer v. Loftis, 276 So. 3d 215, 220 (Ala. Civ. App. 2018) (citing Ex parte Reynolds, 209 So. 3d 1122, 1126 Ala. Civ. App. 2016)).  Hummer v. Loftis, 276 So. 3d 215, 222 (Ala. Civ. App. 2018) (citing Krouse v. Youngblood, 171 So. 3d 49, 50 (Ala. Civ. App. 2015)).  Id. at 221-22.  Ala. Code § 30-3D-601 (2015); Ala. Code § 30-3D-603(b) (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-706, which is not discussed in this article, is titled “Registration of Convention Support Order” and provides registration requirements for a Convention support order.  Id. at § 30-3D-312, which is not discussed in this article, is titled “Nondisclosure of Information in Exceptional Circumstances” and explains in what situations, and for what reasons, “specific identifying information” must be sealed as confidential.  Id. at § 30-3D-602(a) (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-602(b) (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-602(d) (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-602(c) (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-602(e) (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-602(e) (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-603 (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-609 (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-609 (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-610 (2015).  Article 1, which is not discussed in this context in this article, is titled “General Provisions” and includes Ala. Code §§ 30-3D-101–30-3D-105.  Article 2, which is not discussed in this context in this article, is titled “Jurisdiction” and includes Ala. Code §§ 30-3D-201–30-3D-211.  “This article,” Article 6, which is not discussed in this context in this article, is titled “Registration, Enforcement, and Modification of Support Order” and includes Ala. Code §§ 30-3D-601–30-3D-616.  Article 3, which is not discussed in this context in this article, is titled “Civil Provisions of General Application” and includes Ala. Code §§ 30-3D-301–30-3D-319.  Article 4, which is not discussed in this context in this article, is titled “Establishment of Support Order or Determination of Parentage” and includes Ala. Code §§ 30-3D-401–30-3D-402.  Article 5, which is not discussed in this context in this article, is titled “Enforcement of Support Order Without Registration” and includes Ala. Code §§ 30-3D-501–30-3D-507.  Article 7, which is not discussed in this context in this article, is titled “Support Proceeding Under Convention” and includes Ala. Code §§ 30-3D-701–30-3D-713.  Article 8, which is not discussed in this context in this article, is titled “Interstate Rendition” and includes Ala. Code §§ 30-3D-801–30-3D-802.  Ala. Code § 30-3D-613 (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-611(a) (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-611(b) (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-611(c) (2015).  Ala. Code § 30-3D-207, which is not discussed in this article, is titled “Determination of Controlling Child Support Order” and provides guidance as to which child support order must be recognized and enforced in cases in which either one or multiple courts have issued child support orders.  Ala. Code § 30-3D-611(d) (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-611(e) (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-604(a) (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-604(d) (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-604(b) (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-604(c) (2015).  Id. at § 30-3D-611(d) (2015).  Id. at § 30-3B-305 (1975); Ala. Code § 30-3B-306 (1975).  Ala. Code § 30-3B-209, which is not discussed in this article, is titled “Information to Be Submitted to Court” and details the required information to be provided by each party in its first filing in a child custody action.  Ala. Code § 30-3B-305(a) (1975).  Id. at § 30-3B-305(b)(1) (1975).  Id. at § 30-3B-305(b)(2) (1975).  Id. at § 30-3B-305(c) (1975).  Id. at § 30-3B-305(d) (1975).  Id. at § 30-3B-305(d) (1975).  Id. at § 30-3B-305(d) (1975).  Id. at § 30-3B-305(f) (1975).  Id. at § 30-3B-306 (1975).  Ala. Code § 30-3B-204, which is not discussed in this article, is titled “Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction” and provides for temporary emergency jurisdiction in regard to child custody.  Subsections § 30-3B-201(a)(1) and § 30-3B-210(a)(2), which are not further discussed in this article, state: “Except as otherwise provided in Section 30-3B-204, a court of this state has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination only if: (1) This state is the home state of the child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding, or was the home state of the child within six months before the commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from this state but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in this state; (2) A court of another state does not have jurisdiction under subdivision (1), or a court of the home state of the child has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that this state is the more appropriate forum under Section 30-3B-207 or 30-3B-208, and:
The child and the child's parents, or the child and at least one parent or a person acting as a parent, have a significant connection with this state other than mere physical presence; and Substantial evidence is available in this state concerning the child's care, protection, training, and personal relationships.”
 Ala. Code § 30-3B-202, which is not discussed in this article, is titled “Continuing, Exclusive Jurisdiction” and states when an Alabama court does and does not have exclusive and continuous jurisdiction of a custody determination. Id. at § 30-3B-207, which is not discussed in this article, is titled “Inconvenient Forum” and discusses how to proceed in situations in which an Alabama court may be an inconvenient forum.  Id. at § 30-3B-203 (1975).  Hummer v. Loftis, 276 So. 3d 215, 221 (Ala. Civ. App. 2018) (citing Ex parte Reynolds, 209 So. 3d 1122, 1128 (Ala. Civ. App. 2016)).  J.M.S. v. State ex rel. Y.R.S., 216 So. 3d 1257, 1259-60 (Ala. Civ. App. 2016) (quoting Pittman v. Pittman, 419 So. 2d 1376, 1379 (Ala. 1982)) (internal citations omitted).  J.M.S. v. State ex rel. Y.R.S., 216 So. 3d 1257, 1260 (Ala. Civ. App. 2016) (quoting Pittman v. Pittman, 419 So. 2d 1376, 1379 (Ala. 1982)) (internal citation omitted).  See Ex parte Reynolds, 209 So. 3d at 1127 (“[r]equiring strict compliance with § 30-3D-602(a) produces a harsh result, especially considering that the subject matter at issue in cases in which the UIFSA applies is child support.”). Requiring strict compliance with the registration statute does not further the purpose of the UIFSA. See In Re Marriage of Owen and Phillips, 108 P.3d 824, 829 (Wash. Ct. App. 2005).  Ex parte Reynolds, 209 So. 3d at 1127 (quoting Ala. Admin. Code (Dep't of Human Res.), Rule 660-3-10-.01)).  Id. (citing In Re Marriage of Owen and Phillips, 108 P.3d at 829).  Id. at 221.  Id. at 222 (quoting Krouse v. Youngblood, 171 So. 3d 49, 50 (Ala. Civ. App. 2015)).  Id. at 222 (quoting Ala. Code § 30-3B-306(b)).  Id. at 222.  Id.  Id.