Hart v. Hart, 110519 NCCA, COA18-914

Docket Nº:COA18-914
Opinion Judge:ZACHARY, JUDGE.
Party Name:MICHELE ANN HART, Plaintiff, v. PAUL BRADLEY HART, Defendant.
Attorney:Moen Legal Counsel, by Lynna P. Moen, for plaintiff-appellant. James, McElroy & Diehl, P.A., by Caroline T. Mitchell, for defendant-appellee.
Judge Panel:Judges BERGER and HAMPSON concur.
Case Date:November 05, 2019
Court:Court of Appeals of North Carolina




No. COA18-914

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

November 5, 2019

Heard in the Court of Appeals 14 February 2019.

Appeal by plaintiff from order entered 3 April 2018 by Judge Jena P. Culler in Mecklenburg County No. 14 CVD 21633 District Court.

Moen Legal Counsel, by Lynna P. Moen, for plaintiff-appellant.

James, McElroy & Diehl, P.A., by Caroline T. Mitchell, for defendant-appellee.


Michele Ann Hart ("Plaintiff-Mother") appeals from an order modifying the child support obligation of Paul Bradley Hart ("Defendant-Father"). Plaintiff-Mother argues that the trial court (1) lacked jurisdiction to modify a child support order entered by a Washington court, (2) modified the order without evidence of a substantial change in circumstances, and (3) erred in determining the appropriate amount of Defendant-Father's child support obligation. Upon review, we affirm the trial court's order.

I. Background

Plaintiff-Mother and Defendant-Father, while citizens of Washington, married in September 1999, separated in May 2011, and divorced in May 2013. They have three minor children. Between 2011 and 2013, a Washington trial court entered two separate orders relating to custody and child support: a Parenting Plan Final Order ("2011 Custody Order"), and an Order of Child Support ("Support Order"). Because of an error in the Support Order, the Washington court entered a Corrected Order of Child Support ("Corrected Order") obligating Defendant-Father to pay Plaintiff-Mother $1, 839.95 per month in child support.

In August 2013, Plaintiff-Mother and the children relocated to North Carolina. As a result, a second parenting plan order was entered by the Washington court the following year ("2014 Custody Order"). The 2014 Custody Order modified the custody arrangement to account for the fact that the parties now lived across the country from one another. At the same time, the trial court entered an order correcting a typographical error in the Corrected Order concerning Defendant-Father's obligation to pay a portion of the children's uninsured medical expenses ("Correction of Scrivener's Error").

In December 2014, Defendant-Father moved to North Carolina. Plaintiff-Mother then filed a motion in Mecklenburg County District Court, requesting that the North Carolina court assume jurisdiction and modify Washington's 2014 Custody Order. The Washington court subsequently entered an order transferring jurisdiction over "all parenting-related issues in this case" to North Carolina.

On 2 June 2015, Plaintiff-Mother filed a Notice of Registration of Foreign Support Order seeking enforcement of Defendant-Father's child support obligation in North Carolina. Defendant-Father accepted service of the Notice of Registration of Foreign Support Order on 4 January 2016, and did not contest registration. Although Plaintiff-Mother's registration packet included the initial Support Order and the Correction of Scrivener's Error, she omitted the Corrected Order.

On 6 January 2016, the parties consented to a modification of the custodial arrangement. The North Carolina trial court entered a consent order reflecting the parties' agreement concerning custody of the children ("Child Custody Consent Order").

On 26 February 2016, Defendant-Father filed a Motion for Modification of Child Support, properly attaching all three parts of the controlling order: (1) the initial Support Order, (2) the Corrected Order, and (3) the Correction of Scrivener's Error. The trial court heard Defendant-Father's motion to modify on 11 October 2017. At the hearing, Plaintiff-Mother moved to dismiss Defendant-Father's motion for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, which was denied in open court. When a second hearing was held on 30 November 2017 before the Honorable Jena P. Culler, Plaintiff-Mother once again moved to dismiss the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. After hearing arguments from both parties, Judge Culler denied the motion.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court found that "there ha[d] been several material and substantial changes in circumstances" since the Support Order's entry in May 2013. By order entered 3 April 2018, the trial court granted Defendant-Father's motion to modify his child support obligation. The trial court ordered Defendant-Father to pay $569.09 per month in child support, effective 26 February 2016, the date on which he filed his motion to modify. Ultimately, the trial court's modification entitled Defendant-Father to a $26, 676.30 credit. Plaintiff-Mother timely appealed.


Plaintiff-Mother first challenges the trial court's authority to modify Defendant-Father's child support obligation. Specifically, Plaintiff-Mother asserts that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the matter. We disagree.

The instant case is governed by the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act ("UIFSA"), codified in Chapter 52C of our General Statutes. See generally N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 52C-1-100 to -9-902. "UIFSA governs the proceedings concerning the enforceability of any foreign support order that is registered in North Carolina after 1 January 1996." Uhrig v. Madaras, 174 N.C.App. 357, 359, 620 S.E.2d 730, 732 (2005) (citation omitted), disc. review denied, 360 N.C. 367, 630 S.E.2d 455 (2006).

UIFSA is a federally mandated uniform model act that was enacted "as a mechanism to reduce the multiple, conflicting child support orders existing in numerous states[.]" New Hanover Cty. v. Kilbourne, 157 N.C.App. 239, 243, 578 S.E.2d 610, 613-14 (2003). Designed to remedy flaws and inconsistencies that existed under previous interstate legislation, see id. at 241-43, 578 S.E.2d at 612-13, UIFSA allows for "only . . . one controlling support order at any given time." Uhrig, 174 N.C.App. at 360, 620 S.E.2d at 732. Under UIFSA's "one order" system, all states "are required to recognize and enforce the same obligation consistently." Kilbourne, 157 N.C.App. at 243, 578 S.E.2d at 614.

The concept of "continuing, exclusive jurisdiction" is crucial to determining whether North Carolina has jurisdiction to modify, or merely enforce, a child support order issued by another state. "Any [child support order] issued by a court of another state may be registered in North Carolina for enforcement" by following the procedures set forth under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 52C-6-602. Twaddell v. Anderson, 136 N.C.App. 56, 60, 523 S.E.2d 710, 714 (1999), disc. review denied, 351 N.C. 480, 543 S.E.2d 510 (2000). A support order issued in another state is registered and enforceable in North Carolina upon filing. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 52C-6-603(a)-(b); see also id. § 52C-1-101(14) (" 'Register' means to file in a tribunal of this State a support order or judgment determining parentage of a child issued in another state or a foreign country.").

Registering a sister state's child support order for enforcement, however, does not automatically vest North Carolina courts with authority to modify the order. See id. § 52C-6-603(c) ("Except as otherwise provided . . . a tribunal of this State shall recognize and enforce, but may not modify, a registered . . . order if the issuing tribunal had jurisdiction."). Indeed, "[o]nce a foreign child support order has been registered in North Carolina, it can be modified by a North Carolina court only if the issuing state has lost continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over the order." Lombardi v. Lombardi, 157 N.C.App. 540, 543, 579 S.E.2d 419, 420 (2003).

The issuing state loses continuing, exclusive jurisdiction "in two situations: (1) if neither the child nor any of the parties continue to reside in the state; or (2) if each of the parties consented to the assumption of jurisdiction by another state." Uhrig, 174 N.C.App. at 360, 620 S.E.2d at 732 (citation omitted). The...

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