Absent a Finding that California Courts are Vested with Exclusive Jurisdiction for Spousal Support, California Trial Court Orders Confirming Registration of Out Of State Support Orders Are Valid

The parties married in 1952 in Utah. They moved to Los Angeles, and after twenty-five years of marriage and twelve children the parties divorced. The Los Angeles family court issued the judgement of dissolution. The court assigned to the former husband, Lundahl, child support and spousal support obligations. The former wife, Telford, received custody of the minor children and moved back to Utah. Litigation ensued in both Utah and California, arising from subsequent custody modifications, spousal and child support orders and modifications. Lundahl filed petitions to vacate registration of several Utah spousal support orders in California. The trial court in Orange County denied the petition and Lundahl’s Orange County divorce attorney appealed. The support orders ranged from the year the parties divorced in 1977, through the accounting provided in this 2004 appeal.

Does California have sole subject matter jurisdiction over spousal support when a California court issues the dissolution judgment, to the exclusion of out of state orders? Lundahl’s Orange County divorce attorney contends on appeal that the Utah spousal support orders are void for three reasons: (1) California has exclusive jurisdiction to the exclusion of Utah, (2) under Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (RURESA) the Utah orders are “surplusage” and may not create greater liabilities than those imposed on him by California, (3) that under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), California divorce courts retain continuing exclusive jurisdiction over spousal support. The Court rejected all three arguments of husband’s Orange County divorce attorney.

The Court rejected the first argument because the dissolution of marriage in California vested in California jurisdiction, but not exclusive jurisdiction precluding Utah jurisdiction. There is no language of exclusivity in the Orange County divorce judgment, and neither a court nor a party may insert a term where it does not otherwise exist.

Second, both Utah and California recognize that RURESA sister states can each issue conflicting spousal support orders without modifying, superseding, or nullifying each other’s orders. This is the precise dilemma that Lundahl faces as an obligor with inconsistent Utah and California orders against him. While amounts paid for a certain period in one state are credited against amount accrued for the same period in another state, RURESA allows for the result of inconsistent orders enforceable against an obligor. RURESA covered the 1991, 1993 and 1995 Utah orders, as well as California orders from 1977 through 1994.

The Court rejected the third argument because Lundahl’s Orange County divorce attorney misread UIFSA. While UIFSA did supersede RURESA in California in 1998 and Utah in 1997, its application of creating a “controlling order” seems to apply only to multiple child support orders, not multiple spousal support orders. Moreover, UIFSA functions with earlier orders in that orders issued under earlier acts are honored and enforced in every state. The Court added that UIFSA now only allows modifications of spousal support orders by the court that issued the order. The result is that Lundahl’s Orange County divorce attorney cannot request modifications of Utah orders by California, which made worse his situation in that he failed to appear in Utah actions where spousal support was increased.

Thus the Court of Appeal in Orange County affirmed the Orange County trial court’s order of confirming the registration of Utah support orders against Lundahl.

Lundahl v. Telford (2004) 116 Cal.App.4th 305