FSM SUPREME COURT TRIAL DIVISION
Cite as Villazon v. Mafnas
11 FSM Intrm. 309 (Pon. 2003)

[11 FSM Intrm. 309]

KIDI CHRISTINA VILLAZON,
and THOMAS VILLAZON MAFNAS and
CHRISTOPHER VILLAZON MAFNAS,
minor children,
Plaintiffs,
 
vs.
 
RAPHAEL CING MAFNAS,
Defendant.
 
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2002 - 022
 
ORDER
 
Andon L. Amaraich
Chief Justice
 
Decided: January 2, 2003
 
APPEARANCE:
 
For the Plaintiffs:                              Kidi Christina Villazon, pro se

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HEADNOTES

Jurisdiction ) Diversity
      It is well established that the FSM Supreme Court has jurisdiction as a result of the parties' diversity of citizenship. Villazon v. Mafnas, 11 FSM Intrm. 309, 310 (Pon. 2003).
 
Domestic Relations; Federalism ) Abstention and Certification; Jurisdiction ) National Law
     Although national law provides for the reciprocal enforcement of child support orders, case law supports the conclusion that FSM Supreme Court should abstain from exercising its jurisdiction at least until the state court has had the opportunity to rule on the issues. Villazon v. Mafnas, 11 FSM Intrm. 309, 310 (Pon. 2003).
 
Domestic Relations
     Based on the traditional state jurisdiction over matters of domestic relations and on the applicable statutory provisions' language and history, a proceeding for enforcement of a foreign support order is properly commenced in the state court in which the defendant resides, rather than in the FSM Supreme Court and for the same reasons, these cases are properly prosecuted by the Pohnpei Attorney General's office, rather than by the FSM Attorney General's office. Villazon v. Mafnas, 11 FSM Intrm. 309, 310-11 (Pon. 2003).

[11 FSM Intrm. 310]

Transition of Authority
     Under the FSM Constitution's Transition Clause, Trust Territory statutes applicable to the states became part of the states' laws regardless of whether they were published in the FSM Code; they are the laws of the states until amended, superseded or repealed. Villazon v. Mafnas, 11 FSM Intrm. 309, 311 (Pon. 2003).
 
Domestic Relations
     Pohnpei state law anticipates the prosecution of child support enforcement actions in foreign jurisdictions, and provides plaintiffs with a procedure and remedy that is identical to that which they would enjoy under the national code. Villazon v. Mafnas, 11 FSM Intrm. 309, 311 (Pon. 2003).

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COURT'S OPINION

ANDON L. AMARAICH, Chief Justice:

     Plaintiffs are citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and residents of Pohnpei. Defendant is a citizen of the United States of America, residing in Saipan. In October 1996, the parties resided in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). At that time, defendant and Ms. Villazon filed a stipulation establishing paternity and support. The stipulation was entered by the Superior Court of the CNMI, upon that Court's findings that defendant is the biological father of the parties' two minor children and that he is financially able to provide support. The CNMI Court awarded sole custody of the children to Ms. Villazon, and defendant was ordered to create a trust account, provide health insurance, and pay child support in the amount of $300 per month. The parties' stipulation anticipated that defendant would remain a resident of Saipan and that plaintiffs would relocate to Pohnpei, FSM.

     On May 16, 2002, plaintiffs filed in the FSM Supreme Court a complaint seeking enforcement of the child support order pursuant to the reciprocal enforcement of support provisions contained in 6 F.S.M.C. 1711 et seq. Plaintiffs allege that, since 1996, defendant has paid only part of the child support ordered and has not established the trust fund. They claim that he is $13,500 behind in child support payments alone.

     With their complaint, plaintiffs also request that the FSM Department of Justice be appointed to represent them in this proceeding. On July 31, 2002, plaintiffs filed a motion reiterating their request for representation by the FSM Attorney General.

     It is well established that this Court has jurisdiction as a result of the parties' diversity of citizenship. FSM Const. art. XI,  6(b). Furthermore, national law provides for the reciprocal enforcement of child support orders. 6 F.S.M.C. 1711 et seq.; see also Mongkeya v. Brackett, 2 FSM Intrm. 291, 292 (Kos. 1986) (domestic relations are generally state, not national matters, but diversity of citizenship between the parties allows domestic relations cases to come within the jurisdiction of the national courts).

     However, case law supports the conclusion that this Court should abstain from exercising its jurisdiction at least until the Pohnpei Supreme Court has had the opportunity to rule on the issues presented in this case. In Burke v. Torwal, 7 FSM Intrm. 531 (Pon. 1996), the Court held:

     Based on the traditional jurisdiction of the states over matters of domestic relations, and the language and history of the applicable statutory provisions, the Court

[11 FSM Intrm. 311]

finds that this proceeding for enforcement of a foreign support order isproperly commenced in the state court in which the defendant resides, rather than in the FSM Supreme Court. For the same reasons, the Court finds that these cases are properly prosecuted by the Pohnpei State Office of the Attorney General, rather than by the FSM Office of the Attorney General.

7 FSM Intrm. at 532.

      Under the Transition Clause of the FSM Constitution, Trust Territory statutes applicable to the states became part of the states' laws regardless of whether they were published in the FSM Code; they are the laws of the states until amended, superseded or repealed. Pohnpei v. Mack, 3 FSM Intrm. 45, 55 (Pon. S. Ct. Tr. 1987); FSM Const. art. XV,  1. Thus, the state of Pohnpei has reciprocal support enforcement statutes that mirror the national code. See 39 TTC 301 et seq. If the state of Pohnpei initiates the enforcement proceeding, the state Attorney General, "upon the request of the court," must represent plaintiff, as the obligee. 39 TTC 406. The Attorney General in the "responding state," which in the present case is CNMI, is then contacted. If the court in the responding state can obtain jurisdiction of the obligor or his property, specific steps must then be taken to certify the complaint and prosecute the case. 39 TTC 408_414. The word "state," as used in these statutes, includes "any foreign jurisdiction in which this or a substantially similar reciprocal law is in effect." 39 TTC 302 (13). In sum, Pohnpei state law anticipates the prosecution of child support enforcement actions in foreign jurisdictions, and provides plaintiffs with a procedure and remedy that is identical to that which they would enjoy under the national code.

     In light of the foregoing analysis, this Court shall retain jurisdiction but abstain from ruling on the case until the state court has had that opportunity. See In re Nahnsen, 1 FSM Intrm. 97 (Pon. 1982). If, 45 days after the date of entry of this Order, the state court has not ruled on the issues presented, this Court will immediately reinstitute active proceedings in this litigation. Accordingly, the Court denies plaintiffs' motion to appoint the FSM Attorney General to represent them, and directs the Chief Clerk of Courts to forward plaintiffs' Complaint and Motion to the Trial Division of the Pohnpei Supreme Court for docketing.

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