in the Court of Appeals 14 February 2019.
by plaintiff from order entered 3 April 2018 by Judge Jena P.
Culler in Mecklenburg County No. 14 CVD 21633 District Court.
Legal Counsel, by Lynna P. Moen, for plaintiff-appellant.
McElroy & Diehl, P.A., by Caroline T. Mitchell, for
Ann Hart ("Plaintiff-Mother") appeals from an order
modifying the child support obligation of Paul Bradley Hart
("Defendant-Father"). Plaintiff-Mother argues that
the trial court (1) lacked jurisdiction to modify a child
support order entered by a Washington court, (2) modified the
order without evidence of a substantial change in
circumstances, and (3) erred in determining the appropriate
amount of Defendant-Father's child support obligation.
Upon review, we affirm the trial court's order.
and Defendant-Father, while citizens of Washington, married
in September 1999, separated in May 2011, and divorced in May
2013. They have three minor children. Between 2011 and 2013,
a Washington trial court entered two separate orders relating
to custody and child support: a Parenting Plan Final Order
("2011 Custody Order"), and an Order of Child
Support ("Support Order"). Because of an error in
the Support Order, the Washington court entered a Corrected
Order of Child Support ("Corrected Order")
obligating Defendant-Father to pay Plaintiff-Mother $1,
839.95 per month in child support.
August 2013, Plaintiff-Mother and the children relocated to
North Carolina. As a result, a second parenting plan order
was entered by the Washington court the following year
("2014 Custody Order"). The 2014 Custody Order
modified the custody arrangement to account for the fact that
the parties now lived across the country from one another. At
the same time, the trial court entered an order correcting a
typographical error in the Corrected Order concerning
Defendant-Father's obligation to pay a portion of the
children's uninsured medical expenses ("Correction
of Scrivener's Error").
December 2014, Defendant-Father moved to North Carolina.
Plaintiff-Mother then filed a motion in Mecklenburg County
District Court, requesting that the North Carolina court
assume jurisdiction and modify Washington's 2014 Custody
Order. The Washington court subsequently entered an order
transferring jurisdiction over "all parenting-related
issues in this case" to North Carolina.
June 2015, Plaintiff-Mother filed a Notice of Registration of
Foreign Support Order seeking enforcement of
Defendant-Father's child support obligation in North
Carolina. Defendant-Father accepted service of the Notice of
Registration of Foreign Support Order on 4 January 2016, and
did not contest registration. Although Plaintiff-Mother's
registration packet included the initial Support Order and
the Correction of Scrivener's Error, she omitted the
January 2016, the parties consented to a modification of the
custodial arrangement. The North Carolina trial court entered
a consent order reflecting the parties' agreement
concerning custody of the children ("Child Custody
February 2016, Defendant-Father filed a Motion for
Modification of Child Support, properly attaching all three
parts of the controlling order: (1) the initial Support
Order, (2) the Corrected Order, and (3) the Correction of
Scrivener's Error. The trial court heard
Defendant-Father's motion to modify on 11 October 2017.
At the hearing, Plaintiff-Mother moved to dismiss
Defendant-Father's motion for lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction, which was denied in open court. When a second
hearing was held on 30 November 2017 before the Honorable
Jena P. Culler, Plaintiff-Mother once again moved to dismiss
the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. After
hearing arguments from both parties, Judge Culler denied the
conclusion of the hearing, the trial court found that
"there ha[d] been several material and substantial
changes in circumstances" since the Support Order's
entry in May 2013. By order entered 3 April 2018, the trial
court granted Defendant-Father's motion to modify his
child support obligation. The trial court ordered
Defendant-Father to pay $569.09 per month in child support,
effective 26 February 2016, the date on which he filed his
motion to modify. Ultimately, the trial court's
modification entitled Defendant-Father to a $26, 676.30
credit. Plaintiff-Mother timely appealed.
first challenges the trial court's authority to modify
Defendant-Father's child support obligation.
Specifically, Plaintiff-Mother asserts that the trial court
lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the matter. We
instant case is governed by the Uniform Interstate Family
Support Act ("UIFSA"), codified in Chapter 52C of
our General Statutes. See generally N.C. Gen. Stat.
§§ 52C-1-100 to -9-902. "UIFSA governs the
proceedings concerning the enforceability of any foreign
support order that is registered in North Carolina after 1
January 1996." Uhrig v. Madaras, 174 N.C.App.
357, 359, 620 S.E.2d 730, 732 (2005) (citation omitted),
disc. review denied, 360 N.C. 367, 630 S.E.2d 455
is a federally mandated uniform model act that was enacted
"as a mechanism to reduce the multiple, conflicting
child support orders existing in numerous states[.]"
New Hanover Cty. v. Kilbourne, 157 N.C.App. 239,
243, 578 S.E.2d 610, 613-14 (2003). Designed to remedy flaws
and inconsistencies that existed under previous interstate
legislation, see id. at 241-43, 578 S.E.2d at
612-13, UIFSA allows for "only . . . one controlling
support order at any given time." Uhrig, 174
N.C.App. at 360, 620 S.E.2d at 732. Under UIFSA's
"one order" system, all states "are required
to recognize and enforce the same obligation
consistently." Kilbourne, 157 N.C.App. at 243,
578 S.E.2d at 614.
concept of "continuing, exclusive jurisdiction" is
crucial to determining whether North Carolina has
jurisdiction to modify, or merely enforce, a child support
order issued by another state. "Any [child support
order] issued by a court of another state may be registered
in North Carolina for enforcement" by following the
procedures set forth under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 52C-6-602.
Twaddell v. Anderson, 136 N.C.App. 56, 60, 523
S.E.2d 710, 714 (1999), disc. review denied, 351
N.C. 480, 543 S.E.2d 510 (2000). A support order issued in
another state is registered and enforceable in North Carolina
upon filing. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 52C-6-603(a)-(b); see
also id. § 52C-1-101(14) (" 'Register'
means to file in a tribunal of this State a support order or
judgment determining parentage of a child issued in another
state or a foreign country.").
a sister state's child support order for enforcement,
however, does not automatically vest North Carolina courts
with authority to modify the order. See id. §
52C-6-603(c) ("Except as otherwise provided . . . a
tribunal of this State shall recognize and enforce, but may
not modify, a registered . . . order if the issuing tribunal
had jurisdiction."). Indeed, "[o]nce a foreign
child support order has been registered in North Carolina, it
can be modified by a North Carolina court only if the issuing
state has lost continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over the
order." Lombardi v. Lombardi, 157 N.C.App. 540,
543, 579 S.E.2d 419, 420 (2003).
issuing state loses continuing, exclusive jurisdiction
"in two situations: (1) if neither the child nor any of
the parties continue to reside in the state; or (2) if each
of the parties consented to the assumption of jurisdiction by
another state." Uhrig, 174 N.C.App. at 360, 620
S.E.2d at 732 (citation omitted). The foreign support order
remains enforceable even after the issuing state has lost
continuing, exclusive jurisdiction; however, a North Carolina
court lacks authority to modify the order unless the
requirements of N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 52C-6-611 or
52C-6-613 are met. See N.C. Gen. Stat. §
52C-6-610. If no other state has continuing, exclusive
jurisdiction over the order and all of the
individual parties currently reside in North Carolina,
"a tribunal of this State has jurisdiction to enforce
and to modify the issuing state's child support order in
a proceeding to register that order." Id.
the trial court complied with the registration procedures set
out in UIFSA is a question of law reviewed de novo
on appeal." Crenshaw v. Williams, 211 N.C.App.
136, 139-40, 710 S.E.2d 227, 230 (2011).
instant case, Plaintiff-Mother, Defendant-Father, and their
three children were living in Washington when a court of that
state entered the initial Support Order in May 2013. Thus,
Washington retained continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to
modify its support order until the parties moved or consented
to another state's exercise of jurisdiction.
Plaintiff-Mother and the children moved to North Carolina in
August 2013; Defendant-Father followed soon thereafter,
establishing residence in North Carolina in December 2014.
Plaintiff-Mother registered the Support Order and the
Correction of Scrivener's Error-but not the Corrected
Order-in Mecklenburg County in June 2015. Defendant-Father
filed his motion to modify his child support obligation on 26
February 2016. At that time, both parties and all of their
children were North Carolina residents. No state possessed
continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over the controlling
order, nor did the parties consent to the exercise of
jurisdiction by Washington or any other state. Therefore,
pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 52C-6-613(a), the trial
court had jurisdiction to enforce and modify the Washington
as she unsuccessfully argued at two separate hearings before
the trial court, Plaintiff-Mother contends that the trial
court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to modify the
Corrected Order, because it was never registered in North
Carolina. However, registration is a procedural
requirement, not a jurisdictional one. See
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 52C-6-601 cmt. (providing that
"registration is a process, and the failure to register
does not deprive an otherwise appropriate forum of subject
matter jurisdiction"). And as this Court has recognized,
a party is not required to strictly adhere to §
52C-6-602's procedural requirements in order to register
a support order issued by another state; rather,
"substantial compliance" is sufficient "to
accomplish registration of the foreign order."
Twaddell, 136 N.C.App. at 60, 523 S.E.2d at 714
(holding that "the trial court erred in finding that
[the] plaintiff had not met the registration requirements of
UIFSA" where, notwithstanding the plaintiff's
omission of certain required documentation, the registration
packet substantially complied with N.C. Gen. Stat. §
52C-6-602). Although this Court is not bound by case law from
other jurisdictions, see State v. J.C., 372 N.C.
203, 210, 827 S.E.2d 280, 285 (2019), we note that the
Twaddell Court's interpretation of UIFSA's
registration requirements is consistent with that reached by
courts of other jurisdictions.
case at bar, the controlling order is composed of three
parts: (1) the Error. Stated another way, there is one
controlling order, which was corrected twice by the issuing
court in Washington. When Plaintiff-Mother registered the
order for enforcement in North Carolina, she included in her
UIFSA registration packet the Support Order and the
Correction of Scrivener's Error, but she failed to
include the Corrected Order. Nevertheless,
Plaintiff-Mother's inadvertent omission was not a fatal
error in this case.
substantially complied with N.C. Gen. Stat. § 52C-6-602
by registering two of the three parts of the controlling
order. As for the third portion of the controlling order,
Plaintiff-Mother referred to the omitted Corrected Order in
several filings before the trial court. Indeed, on the same
day that Plaintiff-Mother registered the controlling order
for enforcement in North Carolina, she also filed a motion
in the same court seeking to have Defendant-Father
held in contempt of court in North Carolina for his alleged
failure to comply with specific terms of the Corrected Order
that she failed to include in her UIFSA registration packet.
Plaintiff-Mother also referred to the Corrected Order in her
second motion to have Defendant-Father held in
contempt of court in North Carolina based on the same
grounds. The trial court's order denying both of
Plaintiff-Mother's motions specifically references terms
of the Corrected Order. Defendant-Father also attached copies
of the initial Support Order and the two corrections to his
motion to modify. Accordingly, neither Plaintiff- Mother nor
Defendant-Father were prejudiced by Plaintiff-Mother's
failure to strictly comply with all of the statutory
under the provisions of UIFSA, the trial court had
jurisdiction to modify Defendant-Father's child support
obligation. The official comment to § 52C-6-609,
"Procedure to register child support order of another
state for modification," provides, in pertinent part:
If the tribunal has the requisite personal jurisdiction over
the parties and may assume subject matter jurisdiction as
provided in Sections 611 or 613, modification may be sought
independently, in conjunction with registration and
enforcement, or at a later date after the order has been
registered and enforced if circumstances have changed.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 52C-6-609 cmt. Despite her procedural
error, Plaintiff-Mother registered the controlling support
order in North Carolina. As explained above, Washington
lost-and North Carolina gained-continuing, exclusive
jurisdiction to modify that order, because all parties
resided in North Carolina when Defendant-Father filed his
motion to modify.
the controlling order is composed of three parts: (1) the
initial Support Order, (2) the Corrected Order, and (3) the
Correction of Scrivener's Error. That Plaintiff-Mother
inadvertently omitted the Corrected Order from her UIFSA
registration packet did not deprive our courts of