This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).







In re the Marriage of:


Mary K. Clifford, petitioner,





Wayne Howard Clifford,



Filed June 27, 2006

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded

Hudson, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. DC 101094



Richard A. Emerick, 2500 West County Road No. 42, Suite 190, Burnsville, Minnesota 55337 (for respondent)


Mark A. Olson, Olson Law Office, 2605 East Cliff Road, Burnsville, Minnesota 55337 (for appellant)


            Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Klaphake, Judge; and Peterson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


In this spousal-support modification dispute, appellant-husband Wayne Clifford argues the district court (a) misapplied the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act by ruling that the Minnesota district court either lacked jurisdiction to modify spousal support, or would defer to the jurisdiction of other states to do so; and (b) abused its discretion by awarding respondent-wife Mary Clifford attorney fees.  Because husband’s spousal-support obligation created in the parties’ Minnesota dissolution judgment was not modified by the order of another state, we reverse the district court’s determination that Minnesota lacked continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to hear husband’s motion to modify spousal support and remand for the district court to address husband’s motion on the merits.  Because the attorney-fee award of which husband complains was functionally vacated, we affirm in part.


The 1983 Minnesota judgment dissolving the parties’ marriage awarded wife “permanent spousal maintenance” of $1,000 per month.  At that time, the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (“RURESA”) (1968) was in effect in MinnesotaMinn. Stat. §§ 518C.01–.36 (1982).  Under it, wife’s maintenance award qualified as a “support order.”  See Minn. Stat. § 518C.02, subd. 15 (1982) (defining “support order” to include “a judgment . . . of support in favor of an obligee, . . .”) (emphasis added); Minn. Stat. § 518C.02, subd. 7 (1982) (defining “obligee” as “a person . . . to whom a duty of support is owed . . .”) (emphasis added); Minn. Stat. § 518C.02, subd. 3 (1982) (defining “duty of support” to include “a duty of support, whether imposed or imposable . . . or whether incidental to an action for divorce [or] separate maintenance”).  Shortly after the dissolution, wife and the parties’ children moved to Michigan where wife still resides.  Husband moved to Tennessee, then Indiana, and finally settled in Texas, where he has lived since the early 1990’s.

As a part of a 1988 settlement of a spousal-support enforcement action wife brought in Indiana, the parties entered into a stipulation.  The Indiana district court adopted the stipulation and, as a result, ordered judgment on husband’s spousal-support arrearages and reduced his spousal-support payment to $700 per month.  At that time, the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (“URESA”) (1950) was in effect in Indiana.  Ind. Code Ann. § 31-2-1-1 (1987).

            In 1991, as a part of a spousal-support enforcement action in Michigan, a Michigan district court order denied husband’s motion to modify spousal support.  In 1991, RURESA (1968) was in effect in Michigan.  1985 Mich. Pub. Acts 858.

In 1994, Minnesota replaced RURESA with the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (“UIFSA”) (1992).  1994 Minn. Laws 1815-16.  Michigan and Indiana adopted UIFSA two years later.  See UIFSA (1996) (U.L.A.) Prefatory Note, Gen. Stat. Note.  Under UIFSA, “continuing, exclusive jurisdiction” over spousal support is vested in the state issuing a “spousal support order.”  See UIFSA (1992) (U.L.A.) § 205 cmt. (noting the prohibition against a modification of an existing spousal-support order of another state imposed by UIFSA Sections 205 and 206 “marks a radical departure from RURESA,” which, under certain circumstances, allowed states other than the one issuing a spousal-support order to modify the order).

In 2004, husband moved a Minnesota district court to modify spousal support.  Wife argued that Minnesota lacked “jurisdiction” to modify spousal support.  Two Minnesota district court orders are at issue in this appeal.  In the first order, issued October 1, 2004, a referee recognized both the stipulated Indiana order reducing husband’s spousal-support payment and husband’s appearances in the Michigan courts.  The 2004 order then ruled:

1.         The request that Minnesota assume jurisdiction of the issue of [spousal support] is denied.

2.         The State courts of the State of Michigan are where those actions should take place.

3.         [Wife] is allowed $650 attorney fees from [husband] for having to defend against [husband’s] motions to have this Court exercise jurisdiction.


On review, a second referee issued a May 5, 2005 order vacating paragraph 2 of the 2004 order and denying “all other motions not specifically addressed herein.”  Based on a finding that the parties consented to the Indiana district court’s 1988 order, the referee concluded that “Indiana is now the issuing state of the current spousal [support] order” and as such, “[t]he entry of that order necessarily conferred jurisdiction in the State of Indiana.”  Additionally, in the 2005 order, the referee found that “[t]here is no basis in the record for an award of attorneys’ fees for either party.”  The district court approved the 2005 order, and husband appeals.




            The primary issue in this case is whether Minnesota, under UIFSA, has “continuing, exclusive jurisdiction” over the spousal-support order.  “Jurisdiction” has been observed by the U.S. Supreme Court as a word with “too many meanings.”  Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 126 S. Ct. 1235, 1242 (2006) (citing Steel Co. v. Citizens for Better Env’t, 523 U.S. 83, 90, 118 S. Ct. 1003, 1010 (1998)).  While Part B of UIFSA, entitled “Proceedings involving two or more states,” identifies the court in which “continuing, exclusive jurisdiction” over a spousal-support order is vested, it does not identify whether the jurisdiction to which it refers is personal jurisdiction, subject-matter jurisdiction, in rem jurisdiction, or some other type of jurisdiction.  In related contexts, we have assumed the relevant portions of UIFSA refer to subject-matter jurisdiction.  Porro v. Porro, 675 N.W.2d 82, 86–87 (Minn. App. 2004); Kasdan v. Berney, 587 N.W.2d 319, 321–22 (Minn. App. 1999).  For purposes of this appeal, we continue to treat the “continuing, exclusive jurisdiction” of UIFSA as referring to subject-matter jurisdiction.

            The existence of subject-matter jurisdiction and a determination of the meaning of statutes addressing subject-matter jurisdiction are legal questions, which we review de novo.  Kasdan, 587 N.W.2d at 321; Neighborhood Sch. Coal. v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 279, 484 N.W.2d 440, 441 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. June 30, 1992); see Brookfield Trade Ctr. v. County of Ramsey, 584 N.W.2d 390, 393 (Minn. 1998) (stating that statutory construction is a legal question reviewed de novo).

A.         Pre-UIFSA Proceedings

Under RURESA, interstate modification of support orders was possible.  See Minn. Stat. § 518C.25, subd. 1 (1982) (requiring registered foreign support order to be treated as support order issued by a court of this state); see also UIFSA (1992) (U.L.A.) § 205 cmt. (noting although interstate modification of spousal-support order was possible under RURESA, it was rarely done).  As part of the stipulated 1988 settlement of wife’s Indiana support-enforcement action, the parties agreed to “modify” the amount of wife’s monthly spousal-support from $1,000 to $700, effective August 1988.  The Indiana district court’s resulting order met the definition of a “support order” under Indiana law.  See Ind. Code Ann. § 31-2-1-2 (j), (h), (f) (1987) (defining “support order,” “obligee,” and “duty of support,” like definitions in 1982 Minnesota statute).  The Indiana order, however, did not “modify” the Minnesota spousal-support order.  This is because Indiana’s adoption of URESA included an antisupersession clause, stating:

No order of support issued by a court of this state when acting as a responding state[[1]] shall supersede any other order of support but the amounts for a particular period paid pursuant to either order shall be credited against amounts accruing or accrued for the same period under both.


Ind. Code Ann. § 31-2-1-29 (1987).  Accordingly, Indiana’s support order did not modify or supersede the Minnesota support order, but instead became a separate support order.  See Banton v. Mathers, 309 N.E.2d 167, 168 (Ind. Ct. App. 1974) (concluding that Oklahoma support orders issued under URESA “did not modify or supersede the original Indiana divorce decree support provision”); Beach v. Beach, 642 N.E.2d 269, 279 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994) (concluding that courts lacked the authority under URESA to modify a foreign state’s spousal-support order and stating if payment determined in responding state is less than original payment amount, “the obligor accumulates an arrearage in the initiating state equal to the difference between the amounts reflected in the two support orders”) (emphasis added).  Thus, under Indiana law, the 1988 Indiana order: (1) reduced husband’s spousal-support payment; and (2) resulted in the amounts paid under the order being credited against amounts accruing under the original Minnesota spousal-support order.  But the Indiana order did not modify the Minnesota spousal-support order.

In 1991, after husband moved to Texas, wife brought an enforcement action in Michigan, which the Michigan court granted.  While the Michigan court found that the Minnesota judgment and the Indiana order “modifying” the spousal-support payments to $700 were valid and enforceable, it denied husband’s counter-motion to modify the spousal-support orders.  In 2000, at a motion hearing in Michigan, wife argued that the Michigan court had, before UIFSA was adopted, issued a support order consistent with the laws of Michigan.  The Michigan court replied, “No, this Court had issued an order that enforced the prior order of a different court.”  (Emphasis added.)

            Thus, prior to the adoption of UIFSA, Minnesota, Indiana, and Michigan had each issued orders related to the parties’ spousal support: Minnesota issued the original spousal-support order, Indiana issued an order reducing husband’s payments, and Michigan repeatedly issued enforcement orders.

B.  Effect of Enactment of UIFSA

            Under UIFSA, “continuing, exclusive jurisdiction” over spousal-support orders is vested in one state.  See UIFSA (1992) (U.L.A.) § 205(f) (designating the “issuing state” of a support order as the state with continuing, exclusive jurisdiction); Minn. Stat. § 518C.205 (f) (1994).  A primary purpose of UIFSA was to provide uniformity among states in enforcing family-support orders.  See UIFSA (1992) (U.L.A.) Prefatory Note II (B)(3).  UIFSA created a one-order system—in contrast to the multiple support orders that could be in effect in several states under the previous acts—whereby all states were required to recognize and enforce the same obligations in a consistent manner.  Id.  The establishment of continuing, exclusive jurisdiction in one state was an essential part of this one-order system. § 205, cmt. (noting that the section establishing continuing exclusive jurisdiction is “perhaps the most crucial provision in UIFSA”).  By vesting continuing, exclusive jurisdiction in the issuing state, interstate collection was allowed while at the same time protecting the original order from being modified by another state.  See UIFSA (1992) § 603 (b), (c) (allowing a support order to be registered in a foreign state for the purpose of recognition and enforcement, but not for modification).

Here, husband argues that under Minn. Stat. § 518C.205 (f) (2004), Minnesota is the state with continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over the spousal-support order originating in the 1983 dissolution judgment.  Under § 518C.205 (f):

A tribunal of this state issuing a support order consistent with the law of this state has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over a spousal support order throughout the existence of the support obligation.  A tribunal of this state may not modify a spousal support order issued by a tribunal of another state having continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over that order under the law of that state.


UIFSA defines a “spousal-support order” as “a support order for a spouse or former spouse of the obligor.”  UIFSA (1992) (U.L.A.) § 101(18); Minn. Stat. § 518C.101 (r) (2004) (emphasis added).  And a “support order” includes “a judgment . . . for the benefit of . . . a former spouse, which provides for monetary support.”  UIFSA (1992) (U.L.A.) § 101(21); Minn. Stat. § 518C.101 (u) (2004); Ind. Code Ann. § 31-18-1-24 (2003).

It is undisputed that Minnesota is the “issuing state” of the spousal-support order included in the 1983 dissolution judgment.  But before a Minnesota court can modify a spousal-support order, we must determine whether another state—namely Michigan or Indiana—has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over the spousal-support order under the laws of that state.  See Minn. Stat. 518C.205 (f) (2004) (preventing modification if another state has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction).  Our review of the record reveals that the Michigan courts have not directly ruled on the question in a written order.  But statements from the bench in the relevant Michigan proceedings indicate the Michigan courts have concluded that they lack subject-matter jurisdiction to modify either the Minnesota or the Indiana spousal-support orders, and that they have not issued a spousal-support order of their own:

The Court [believes] that MCL § 552.1224(6) specifically provides that this Court shall not—not may not, but shall not—modify a spousal order issued by a tribunal of another state having continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over that order, under the law of that state.  And I believe that’s what the judgment of the divorce is, is a support order issued by another state having continuing, exclusive jurisdiction.


Cf. Mich. R. Civ. P. 2.517(A)(3) (allowing Michigan courts to state findings and conclusions of law on the record).  We see no basis for questioning the Michigan court’s characterization of its own actions.  Accordingly, because the Michigan courts have limited their actions to enforcement, we conclude that Michigan lacks “continuing, exclusive jurisdiction” to modify husband’s spousal support under UIFSA.

While Indiana issued a spousal-support order, under our interpretation of Indiana law, the Indiana order did not modify or supersede the original Minnesota spousal-support order.  It follows that Indiana does not have continuing, exclusive jurisdiction under UIFSA to modify the original Minnesota spousal-support order. 

Therefore, we conclude that because Indiana’s pre-UIFSA spousal-support order merely reduced the amount of husband’s spousal-support payment—but did not replace or supersede the original Minnesota spousal-support order—the Minnesota district court erred in ruling that continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over spousal support was vested in a state other than Minnesota.  Under UIFSA, Minnesota has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to hear husband’s motion to modify spousal support, and the district court cannot refuse to exercise subject-matter jurisdiction that it holds exclusively.  Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s holding that Minnesota lost subject-matter jurisdiction to hear husband’s modification request and remand for the district court to address husband’s motion on the merits.  On remand, the district court shall have discretion to reopen the record.


            In the 2004 order, the Minnesota district court awarded wife $650 in attorney fees for having to defend husband’s motions.  The district court provided no findings to support the award, nor any reference to its authority for making the award.  The 2005 order, found that “[t]here is no basis in the record for an award of attorneys’ fees for either party.  The parties have not acted in bad faith nor have they acted to delay or cause excess expense in the proceeding.”  Although the district court did not expressly vacate the 2004 award of attorney fees, the finding that there was no basis for the award functionally vacated that award.[2]

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.



[1] The record before this court does not indicate whether the Indiana district court in 1988 was acting as a “responding state” under URESA, but because the parties have treated the Indiana court as such and have not claimed otherwise, we also treat it as such.

[2] Even if the 2005 order had not vacated the award, we would have reversed it.  When awarding attorney fees in a dissolution case under section 518.14 (2004), the district court must indicate whether the award is based on need or conduct and address the factors set out in the statute for the type of award involved.  Geske v. Marcolina, 624 N.W.2d 813, 816 (Minn. App. 2001).  Here, the 2004 order cited no authority for the award of attorney fees.  Also, wife candidly admits that she did not seek an award of attorney fees as a part of her motions and that there was no basis for an award under Minn. Stat. §§ 518.14, 549.211 (2004), or Minn. R. Civ. P. 11.  Wife asserted that the only possible basis for the award might be under the Minnesota Rules of General Practice 119, arguing that rule 119 does not require a motion when the amount sought is less than $1,000.  But rule 119 merely establishes a standard procedure for seeking attorney fees, not authority for making an award.  See Minn. R. Civ. P. 119, 1997 advisory comm. cmt. (stating that “[t]his rule is intended to create a standard procedure only; it neither expands nor limits the entitlement to recovery of attorneys’ fees in any case”).  The award of attorney fees in the 2004 order was an abuse of the district court’s discretion.