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International Child Support Obligations: Recognition & Enforcement in the United States

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Attorney Dr. Nick Oberheiden represents clients in complex cross-border and international proceedings involving the United States and other legal systems. Trained in negotiations at Harvard Law School and educated at law schools in Europe and the United States, Nick holds a Juris Doctor from UCLA School of Law, a Ph.D. in international law, and a European law degree. He is a registered and recognized expert in U.S. law and international law by German courts.

Nick Oberheiden

A frequent speaker and featured expert on media stations across the United States, Nick has substantial experience in international recognition and enforcement cases, extradition proceedings, and international litigation. He regularly appears before the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as in courts across the United States.

Contact Nick today online, or call his cell at (214)469-9009.

The Hague Maintenance Convention

The United States, the European Union, and other countries are signatories to the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance (the “Hague Maintenance Convention”), an international agreement that covers, inter alia, the recognition and enforcement of child support judgments outside of the country of origin.  The purpose of this Convention is to make it as simple, efficient, and uniform as possible to enforce child support obligations between signatory countries. The Hague Maintenance Convention equally applies in full to a spousal support order when application for recognition of that order is made in conjunction with a child support order, and in part when the spousal support order is presented separately.

In general, enforcement of a foreign judgment occurs in two steps, which are called recognition and enforcement. When a court “recognizes” a foreign judgment, it domesticates the judgment and treats it as if the judgment had been rendered by the host court itself— essentially converting a non-U.S. judgment into a judgment as good and as accepted as a judgment from Florida or any other U.S. state.

Once the foreign judgment is accepted and recognized, a court “enforces” a judgment by executing it against the debtor, such as ordering the debtor to comply with the judgment or garnishing the debtor’s wages in order to satisfy the judgment.  Essentially, the recognition and enforcement process allows a foreign maintenance judgment to be enforced by the host jurisdiction as if the judgment had been rendered domestically.

Procedures for Recognition and Enforcement Under the Hague Maintenance Convention

Central Authority: Under the terms of the Hague Maintenance Convention, each country creates a “central authority” for carrying out the country’s administrative duties with regard to the Convention, such as receiving and assisting in the enforcement of maintenance decisions from other countries.  A central authority may appoint one or more “competent authorities” to carry out specific tasks under the Convention, such as courts or administrative agencies.

Application for Recognition and Enforcement:  When a creditor has obtained a maintenance judgment in one signatory country and wishes to execute it against a debtor in another signatory country, the debtor must file an “application for recognition and enforcement.”  The creditor must submit the application to the central authority of his/her country of residence for processing, which in turn will transmit the application to the central authority of country where the debtor resides. The central authority of the debtor’s country may then refer the application to a competent authority, which will render a decision as to whether it will be recognized and enforced.   Once the judgment is recognized, the competent authority will notify the debtor of the recognition decision and provide the debtor with an opportunity to challenge that decision. The application must include the following information:

  • A statement of the nature of the application
  • The name, address, and date of birth of the applicant
  • The name, address, and date of birth of the debtor
  • The name and date of birth of the child for whom maintenance is sought
  • The grounds upon which the application is based
  • Information regarding where payment should be remitted to
  • The name and contact information for individual or department within the requesting state’s central authority who is responsible for processing the application

An application for recognition and enforcement of a foreign maintenance judgment must be accompanied by the following documents:

  • The complete text of the foreign judgment
  • A document stating that the foreign judgment is enforceable in the country of origin
  • If the judgment debtor (paying parent) did not appear in the original proceedings, a document attesting that (as appropriate):
    • The judgment debtor received proper notice of the proceedings and an opportunity to be heard (where the country of origin provides for notice of proceedings), or
    • The judgment debtor received proper notice of the judgment and an opportunity to challenge the decision (where the country of origin does not provide for notice of proceedings)
  • If applicable, a record showing the amount of arrears and the date when such amount was calculated
  • If applicable, a record showing a requirement for automatic adjustment of the amount of support and any necessary information for making such an adjustment.
  • If applicable, a record disclosing any free legal assistance the judgment creditor received in the country of origin

Grounds for Refusing or Challenging Recognition and Enforcement:  A court, on its own or upon challenge by the debtor, may only refuse to recognize and enforce a foreign maintenance judgment for the following reasons:

  • Recognition and enforcement of the judgment is manifestly incompatible with the public policy of the host jurisdiction
  • The judgment was obtained through fraud with regard to a matter of procedure
  • There are coextensive proceedings currently pending in another jurisdiction that were filed prior to the proceedings which produced the judgment at issue
  • The judgment is incompatible with a more recent judgment between the parties on the same issue
  • The debtor did not receive proper notice of either the proceedings or judgment in the country of origin

In addition to the above-listed grounds, a debtor may challenge a decision to recognize and enforce a judgment based on the authenticity of any of the documents that accompanied the application for recognition and enforcement.

Foreign Judgment Enforcement in New York & Connecticut

In general, in the United States, enforcement of foreign court orders is carried out by proceedings in federal court due to diversity jurisdiction, although state law applies. For purposes of the Hague Maintenance Convention, the central authority for the United States is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  The HHS has designated competent authorities within each state to administer specific tasks associated with the treaty duties.

New York

Registration of the Judgment:  The party submitting an application for recognition and enforcement of a foreign judgment must “register” the foreign judgment with the state of New York.  The request for registration must include all of the application documents enumerated above.  All documents submitted to a New York tribunal must be filed in their original language and, if not in English, accompanied by an English translation.  A New York court may only vacate the registration of an uncontested foreign maintenance judgment if the court finds that recognition and enforcement of the judgment would be manifestly incompatible with public policy.  Once the judgment is registered (or a registration is vacated), the tribunal will promptly notify both the debtor and the creditor.

Contesting Registration of a Maintenance Judgment: Upon receipt of notice of registration, the debtor has 30 days (or 60 days if the debtor resides out of state) to file a contest against the registration.  If the debtor does not timely contest the registration, the judgment will be deemed enforceable. Once the tribunal has rendered a decision, it will promptly notify both the debtor and creditor.  Except under extraordinary circumstances, a challenge to the registration of an order will not stay enforcement of the order.

When presiding over a contest of a registered maintenance order, a New York tribunal may not review the merits of the order and it is bound by any factual findings of the foreign court upon which the foreign court based its jurisdiction.  A New York tribunal may decline to enforce only part of a foreign judgment and to enforce the rest of the judgment. The following grounds are the exclusive bases upon which a New York court may refuse recognition and enforcement of a contested foreign maintenance order:

  • Recognition and enforcement of the order would be manifestly incompatible with public policy (including failure of the issuing tribunal to observe minimum standards of due process, such as giving the debtor notice and an opportunity to be heard)
  • The issuing tribunal lacked personal jurisdiction over the debtor
  • The order is not enforceable in the issuing country
  • The order was obtained by fraud in connection with a matter of procedure
  • One or more of the records submitted with the application lacks authenticity or integrity
  • A proceeding between the same parties and having the same purpose is pending before another New York tribunal and that proceeding was filed before the present one
  • The order is incompatible with a more recent maintenance order involving the same parties and the same purposes
  • The debtor has already repaid the judgment amount in whole or part
  • The debtor did not receive proper notice of the proceeding or judgment in the originating country

Connecticut

Registration of the Judgment:  The competent authority for the state of Connecticut is the Family Support Magistrate Division of the Superior Court of Connecticut. A creditor seeking to enforce a foreign maintenance judgment in Connecticut must first register that judgment with the competent authority.  Once the judgment is registered, it will be filed within the state as if it were a domestically rendered order and will thenceforth be enforceable as such. To register the judgment, the creditor must submit the following documents:

  • A complete text of the support order;
  • A record stating that the support order is enforceable in the issuing country;
  • If the respondent did not appear and was not represented in the proceedings in the issuing country, a record attesting, as applicable, that the respondent had proper notice of either the proceedings or the support order;
  • If applicable, a record showing the amount of arrears and the date the amount was calculated;
  • If applicable, a record demonstrating a requirement for automatic adjustment of the amount of support and any necessary information to make the appropriate calculations; and
  • If applicable, a record showing the extent to which the applicant received free legal assistance in the issuing country.

All documentation should be submitted in its original language, and, if not in English, should be accompanied by an English translation. Any personal information contained in the application or relevant documentation may only be used for the purpose for which it was gathered and/or transmitted.

Upon registration of the foreign judgment, the competent authority will notify the debtor of the registration in writing. The notice will include all relevant information and documentation to the order, including the date of registration, the procedure for contesting registration, and the amount of any alleged arrearage.

Contesting Registration of a Maintenance Judgment:  Once a debtor receives notice of registration, the debtor has 30 days (or 60 days if the debtor lives outside the United States) to contest the validity of the registration.  Once a hearing is requested, the court will schedule a hearing and give notice to both parties of the date, time, and place of the hearing.  If the judgment is not timely contested, the registration will be automatically confirmed and the order will be ripe for enforcement.

A court may only vacate registration of an uncontested maintenance judgment if it finds that recognition and enforcement of the order would be manifestly incompatible with public policy.  A Connecticut court may only decline to recognize and enforce a foreign maintenance order on the following grounds:

  • Recognition and enforcement of the order would be manifestly incompatible with public policy (including failure of the issuing tribunal to observe minimum standards of due process, such as giving the debtor notice and an opportunity to be heard)
  • The issuing tribunal lacked personal jurisdiction over the debtor
  • The order is not enforceable in the issuing country
  • The order was obtained by fraud in connection with a matter of procedure
  • One or more of the records submitted with the application lacks authenticity or integrity
  • A proceeding between the same parties and having the same purpose is pending before another Connecticut court and that proceeding was filed before the present one
  • The order is incompatible with a more recent maintenance order involving the same parties and the same purposes
  • The debtor has already repaid the judgment amount in whole or part
  • The debtor did not receive proper notice of the proceeding or judgment in the originating country

The debtor has the burden of proving any challenges leveled against the judgment.  Upon evidence from the debtor, the tribunal may render all or part of the judgment unenforceable or may stay enforcement of the judgment pending production of further relevant evidence.  If the court determines not to recognize the foreign judgment, the court must nonetheless allow the creditor a reasonable amount of time to request the establishment of a new support order before dismissing the proceeding. If the debtor fails to meet the burden of proving a defense to the validity of the judgment, the tribunal will issue an order confirming the judgment. Except under exceptional circumstances, a challenge or appeal to the validity of a judgment will not stay enforcement of the support order.

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