The Court of Appeal in New Zealand has decided that an order made in a Mexican court for a payment of child and spousal maintenance is enforceable in New Zealand.

The couple moved to Mexico from New Zealand during the course of their marriage, with their young daughter. They then separated and the man moved back to New Zealand. The woman commenced proceedings in the courts of Mexico, and the man was ordered to pay both spousal and child maintenance.

The man failed pay the ordered amount of maintenance, which lead to the woman filing proceedings in the High Court of New Zealand in an attempt to enforce the maintenance order.

The Court had to decide whether it had the jurisdiction to enforce the maintenance order. When deciding on whether or not to enforce foreign money judgements, the Court must look at:

  •        If the foreign court had jurisdiction to make the judgement;
  •        The judgment was for a definite sum of money;
  •        The judgment was final and conclusive.

All three of these requirements were met by the order made in Mexico, which led to Court to the conclusion that this order could be enforced in New Zealand.

The man then argued that the Court had no authority to enforce an ongoing payment of spousal maintenance that was ordered in another country.  He argued that Parliament deliberately didn’t address this area of law, and that enforcing such an order would be contrary to the existing law surrounding the enforcement of overseas maintenance orders. 

The Court decided that the woman should only be deprived of the debt owed as a result of a foreign maintenance order if Parliament clearly intended to exclude enforcement of that order. The purpose of this area of law is to enable individuals to get foreign maintenance payments ordered in other countries and as a result, payment of all spousal and child maintenance owing to the woman was ordered. 

If the man had a better understanding of his obligations to pay maintenance to his former partner, he could have avoided costly and time consuming legal proceedings.

If there is confusion about the obligations surrounding spousal or child maintenance orders, it is wise to seek advice from a professional in the area.

 

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Shaun Cousins