When Foreign Decrees of Support are Recognized in California

Father [F] met Mother [M] while he was solider in the United States Air Force and stationed in Italy. M is an Italian citizen and lived in Italy when she met F. They married in September of 2007, and had their son [S] in December of 2007.

When F’s deployment ended, he returned to California to attend the California Highway Patrol Academy. M and S remained in Italy until July of 2009 to live with F in California.

Sadly, the reuniting was not a happy one, and two months later, M moved back to Italy with S. In Italy, she filed for divorce and requested child and spousal support. She was granted temporary support of 1500 Euros per month; later reduced to 400 Euros per month, and the court authorized the spouses to live alone.

In 2013, the Italian Court granted M a decree of separation, but not a divorce, and awarded her full custody of S. F was awarded summer and holiday visitation and regular phone contact.

Meanwhile, in 2010, M requested that the Sacramento County Department of Child Support Services [Department] began enforcing the temporary support order administratively under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act [UIFSA]. F objected to the administrative enforcement of the order, and in 2013, Department filed a “Notice of Registration of Out-of-State Support Order” in the Sacramento County.

At the subsequent hearing to enforce the Italian order, F argued that Italy, unlike California, “has no . . . laws detailing formulas and guidelines the courts are to follow in setting child support and spousal support. There is no presumption in Italy that “permanent spousal support in a marriage lasting less than ten (10) years will only be payable for one-half (1/2) the length of the marriage,” and there is no set age for child support to terminate.

Countering F, Department argued that F, had the burden of proving the defenses to registration set forth in the California Family Code, and that he had failed to meet his burden. The Department also argued against F’s belief that Italy was not a “state” under the UIFSA. The Department “pointed to Italy’s accession to the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance at The Hague Conference and enactment of the Italian Private International Law Act as evidence Italy had laws or procedures similar to UIFSA for issuance and enforcement of support orders.”

Following the hearing the trial court decreed that F had not met his burden that Italy was not a “state” by UIFSA standards, and that F must pay his support obligation. F appealed.

The Appellate Court held that the UIFSA’s definition includes “a foreign jurisdiction that has enacted a law or established procedures for issuance and enforcement of support orders which are substantially similar to the procedures under this chapter.”

Further, the Court held: “We construe the “substantially similar” language in section 4901, subdivision (s)(2) to mean that a foreign country may be deemed a state within the meaning of UIFSA if the foreign country has laws and procedures that allow for recognition and enforcement of a California child support order, which need not be identical to California’s laws and procedures under UIFSA. Whether Italy has specified support guidelines or a presumption limiting spousal support for short-term marriages is unrelated to a determination of whether Italy has laws and procedures that allow for recognition and enforcement of a California child support order. Accordingly, Father’s claims related thereto, even if true, fail to establish that Italy is not a state under UIFSA.”

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