This is part four of our how-to legal feature that seeks to give step-by-step information on how to navigate the legal system for common procedures. Here's how to get child support from a parent overseas.
UNDER the law, both parents are responsible for providing for children under 18 years old, children living with disabilities, or a child who is under 23 and is still attending university. The Jamaican court makes it possible for a parent living overseas to file for child support from a parent living here, or for a parent living here to seek child support from a parent living in another country, providing that the country is a "reciprocating state".
Jamaica currently has reciprocal agreements with only three states in America — Maryland, New Jersey and Florida — as well as all Caricom states, the United Kingdom and Manitoba, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland in Canada.
Under this arrangement, a parent suing for maintenance can make a request to the local courts. When an order is made, the Foreign Affairs Ministry liaises with the relevant authority in the reciprocating state to serve the other parent with the maintenance order. The funds would then be collected and disbursed through the courts.
The current Maintenance Orders (Facilities for Enforcement) Act allows that where a Jamaican court has made a maintenance order against a person and it is proved that such person is residing in a reciprocating state, the court and that state shall do what is appropriate to ensure enforcement. The same obtains if the parent being sued resides in Jamaica.
In order to file for child support from a parent overseas you would need to:
1. File a claim for child maintenance in the Family Court or the Resident Magistrate's court in your parish.
2. The application will be processed and once filed, will be served on the parent from which child maintenance is being sought. An attorney is suggested for this process.
3. Upon serving the application, both parents or their representatives are required to be in court on the date specified. If one parent is not present, the judge can make a provisional order for support, based on the evidence — affidavit — of the applying party.
5. The judge, after reviewing the documents and statements, will then make an order which determines how much the parent is expected to pay on a weekly or monthly basis and how and where the payments should be made.
6. Once an order is made, the clerk will certify the order and send it to the minister. The minister will then send the order through the appropriate channels to the relevant authority in the reciprocating state.
The Maintenance Orders (Facilities for Enforcement) Act states in its Application Abroad of Orders Made in Jamaica that:
1. Where a court in Jamaica has made a maintenance order against a person; and it is proved to the court that such person is resident in a reciprocating state, the court shall, upon the request of the payee (the person entitled to payments), send a certified copy of the order to the minister for transmission through the appropriate authority to the appropriate court in that state for registration and enforcement.
2. Where an application is made to a court in Jamaica for a maintenance order against any person; and it is proved to the court that that person is residing in a reciprocating state, the court may, in the absence of that person, make any such order as it might have made if a summons had been duly served on that person and the person had failed to appear at the hearing. However, any order so made shall be provisional only, and shall have no effect unless and until confirmed by a competent court in the reciprocating state.
3. Where an order is made, an officer of the court shall send to the minister for transmission through the appropriate authority to a court in the reciprocating state: i) a certified copy of the order; ii) the depositions of witnesses, iii) a certified copy of the transcripts; iv) if provisional, the certificate from the court which made the provisional order stating the grounds on which the making of the order might have been opposed if the person against whom the order is made had been duly served with a summons and had appeared at the hearing; and, v) such information in the possession of the court as would facilitate locating and identifying that person.
Also, a court in Jamaica of competent jurisdiction may make an order varying or revoking the original order. Where a variation of the order consists of an increase in the payments under the original order, the order for variation shall be provisional unless both parties appear at the hearing or the applicant appears and the court is satisfied that the other party has been duly served with the appropriate process.
Parents of children who seek support from non-custodial parents in states with no reciprocal agreements should note that the ministry has said that it is working at the federal level in the United States to name all states reciprocating states.
Also, the custodial parent has the option of trying to get support by visiting and filing for support in the state in which the other parent resides. Contact should be made with the Department of Children's Services or similar agency in the relevant state in the US.
The parent can give both a Jamaican address as well as the address of relatives in the US to ensure that he/she does not miss the date of the hearing. The US agency will handle the petition for support as well as file for back support.
The custodial parent is required to file for support in person in the first instance, but should be able to appoint an agent to act on his/her behalf if he/she is not physically able to appear at later hearings.
The other parent will have to show proof that they have made contributions towards the child's upkeep. If he/she is unable to give this evidence, then the court will decide the amount to be contributed.
The monies can be deducted from the parent's salary and kept at the courts for whenever the other parent visits the States. Further, if the parent leaves their job, their next workplace will be notified and the arrangement will continue until the child is 18.