Interstate Support Orders – Henry C. Watkins v. Jennifer L. Benjamin

By Ashley Grim

Henry C. Watkins v. Jennifer L. Benjamin (f/k/a Watkins), Published 

Defendant and her trial counsel appealed from the trial court’s order of 28 December 2017 which concluded that North Carolina retained ongoing, exclusive jurisdiction of the matters of custody and support of the minor children..  The Court of Appeals affirmed.

A temporary consent order was entered on 17 July 2014 awarding Plaintiff father and Defendant mother joint custody of the children with primary placement to Plaintiff in Buncombe County.  On 9 October 2015, an order was entered which found Defendant had relocated to Maryland, awarded custody to Plaintiff, and ordered Defendant to pay Plaintiff child support (including arrears) and temporary prospective child support.

The parties engaged in ongoing litigation. On 3 January 2017, the trial court entered a consent order in which the Defendant was awarded primary custody of the children and the trial court and the State of North Carolina retained jurisdiction over the parties and the minor children.

Sometime in early 2017, Defendant filed a complaint seeking child support from Plaintiff in Baltimore County, Maryland. Plaintiff moved to dismiss and the Maryland court dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction over Plaintiff. On 13 November 2017, Defendant filed a petition with the Maryland court to have the dismissal of the Maryland action reviewed and the petition was apparently granted and remained pending at the time the orders at issue in this appeal were entered.

On 19 May 2017, after she filed the Maryland action, and before the Maryland court dismissed the same, the Defendant moved the Buncombe County District Court to modify the child support obligations arguing a substantial change in circumstances. A hearing on all issues occurred in November 2017 in which Defendant moved to dismiss due to the Maryland’s court’s review of the dismissal of the action there. The North Carolina trial court denied Defendant’s motion, found it had continuing exclusive jurisdiction and entered the child support order here at issue.

On appeal, Defendant argued that North Carolina did not have jurisdiction to establish a new support order. The North Carolina Court of Appeals disagreed. It found this action was a modification of an existing order, not the establishment of a new order. The Court held that a support order benefits a child, regardless of who pays. The fact that the obligor changes, does not mean a new order is established. Therefore, the North Carolina court had continuing exclusive jurisdiction to modify the order. Affirmed.