A 2019 study showed that child support payment amounts vary dramatically from state to state. A parent in one state may pay or receive up to three times as much as a parent in an identical situation who lives in another state—and the differences don’t depend on the cost of living.
Given this, a parent might reasonably wonder whether it would be possible to get a lot more child support—or pay a lot less—by moving to the state next door. For better or worse, it’s not that easy.
When a parent moves out of state, the child support order established in the original state remains in place. The law that controls this issue is the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), adopted by all fifty states to help parents and courts resolve interstate child support issues. Under UIFSA, family courts in the new state must enforce the order from the original state unless the parents can prove that the courts should make a change.
How States Establish Jurisdiction for Modification of a Child Support Order
The rules can get complicated, but the law generally works like this:
If one parent still lives in the state that set the child support amount. As noted above, the state that first established the order keeps control of the case—in legal terms, that court has “continuing jurisdiction” over the matter. If the parent who moves away wants to change anything about the order, that parent must petition the court in the original state for the change.
If both parents have left the state that set the child support amount. If the parents move to two different states, a parent that wants to change the original child support order can ask the court in the new state to make a change. The new state’s court may grant the change if it can establish “personal jurisdiction” over the other parent.
Under UIFSA, a state court may establish personal jurisdiction over a parent if any of the following apply:
- the parent is personally served with a summons or notice within the new state
- the parent voluntarily agrees to have the new state’s court hear the matter
- the parent doesn’t object to jurisdiction
- the parent lived with the child in the new state at any time in the past
- the parent lived in the new state before the child’s birth and provided prenatal expenses or support for the child
- the child lives in the state as a result of the acts or directives of the parent over which the new state is seeking jurisdiction, or
- the parent engaged in sexual intercourse in the new state, and the child may have been conceived by that act of intercourse.
How to Get Help With Child Custody and Child Support
Find your local family court. In every state, family law matters are handled at the county level. Once you find your local court, you can plug into any support resources your county offers. These may include resources to help you understand the rules for changing a child support order and referrals for legal help.
To connect with your court, go to our page for the King County family law court. (We don’t require you to provide any personal information to find your local information.)
Find a family lawyer. To locate a good family law attorney or a legal aid office near you, including interview questions to ask a lawyer before you turn over your case, see How to Find a Child Custody Lawyer.