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In re Marriage of Haugh & Castro

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

April 24, 2014

In re the Marriage of GABRIELA and CHRISTOPHER HAUGH. GABRIELA CASTRO, Respondent,
v.
CHRISTOPHER HAUGH, Respondent SAN DIEGO COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SUPPORT SERVICES, Appellant.

APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of San Diego County No. D490082, Adam Wertheimer, Commissioner.

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COUNSEL

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Julie Weng-Gutierrez, Assistant Attorney General, Linda M. Gonzalez and Marina L. Soto, Deputy Attorneys General, for Appellant.

No appearance for Respondents.

OPINION

McDONALD, J.

The San Diego County Department of Child Support Services (Department), as intervenor, appeals the trial court's order granting the request by Christopher Haugh (Father) for modification of a child support order. Father sought to lower child support for the son he had with Gabriela Haugh, now known as Gabriela Castro (Mother). On appeal, Department contends the trial court acted in excess of its jurisdiction because Father, Mother, and their son resided outside of California at the time of the modification request and therefore, pursuant to Family Code[1] section 4909, the court did not have continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to modify the original child support order. Section 4909 is California's enactment of section 205 of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). We conclude the trial court acted in excess of its authority and therefore reverse the order.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In 2008, the trial court ordered Father to pay Mother $700.00 per month in child support for their son. In 2007, Mother moved with their son from California to Texas. In or about 2011, Father moved from California to Nevada.

On January 14, 2013, Father filed a request to modify the amount of his child support payments based on his reduced income. Mother opposed his request for modification, arguing the matter should be heard in the state of their son's residence (i.e., Texas) because none of the parties lived in California.

At the hearing on Father's modification request, Father appeared telephonically and was represented by counsel, Mother appeared telephonically in propria persona, and Department appeared as an intervenor. Department's counsel stated the first issue for the court was whether the court had continuing, exclusive jurisdiction in the case. She argued that because

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Mother, Father, and their son no longer resided in California, the trial court did not have jurisdiction under section 4909, subdivision (a), to modify the original child support order. She suggested Father could have the original child support order registered in Texas and then seek its modification. However, the trial court, noting the original child support order was a California order, stated it "continues to have jurisdiction, until another state assumes jurisdiction. You don't leave a party without a forum." It further stated: "It's clear [that] California shouldn't continue to have it. But it does. That is -- [it] should be in someone else's jurisdiction. But someone needs to take that affirmative step, whether Mother, Father, or [Department]. [¶] I assume it's the Father, since he's the payor...." The court then proceeded to hear arguments on the merits of Father's request for modification. Based on the evidence, the court issued an order (Order) modifying the original child support order, reducing Father's child support obligation to $508 per month, effective February 1, 2013. Department timely filed a notice of appeal challenging the Order.

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