This opinion will
be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re the Marriage
Mary K. Clifford,
Wayne Howard Clifford,
Filed June 27, 2006
Affirmed in part, reversed in
part, and remanded
Hennepin County District Court
File No. DC 101094
Richard A. Emerick, 2500 West County Road No. 42, Suite 190,
55337 (for respondent)
Mark A. Olson, Olson Law Office, 2605 East Cliff Road, Burnsville, Minnesota 55337 (for appellant)
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
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.
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 Minnesota. Minn.
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.
D E C I S I O N
The primary issue in this case is
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).
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
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
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.
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. Id.at § 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).
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).
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
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:
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
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.
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
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
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.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and