Parents commonly take child support issues to court in the context of a divorce, or to get a child support order if they aren't married or raising their child together. The question of when a parent can seek child support comes up. Retroactive child support allows a court to order support for an earlier period when no order was in place, even reaching years back to a child's birth.
Learn about how and when a court may grant retroactive child support.
Parents' Support Duties
Parents generally have the duty to support their children. State laws govern child support obligations, which usually start at birth and last until a child is 18 years old, or 19 years old if he or she hasn't finished high school. State laws vary.
Seeking Retroactive Child Support
When parents aren't together, a child support order or informal payment of support may be lacking. A parent may decide to one day go to court and ask for an award of child support, including retroactive child support. Retroactive child support isn't mandatory or automatic. The custodial parent must specifically ask for retroactive support.
Generally, courts don't make awards retroactive. However, there are several reasons that may justify retroactive child support, including:
- A non-custodial parent concealed part of their finances or intentionally avoided support
- A final hearing on support has been delayed
- A parent seeking support shows need
Courts have leeway when it comes to deciding child support issues, including awarding retroactive support. Even so, a specific request may be denied.
When calculating retroactive child support, most courts order a non-custodial parent to pay based on the income earned at the time in question. A court may also consider whether or not the non-custodial parent knew that support was required. Another factor is if the non-custodial parent paid any money to the custodial parent.
Limits on Retroactive Child Support
Usually, retroactive support can be ordered back to the date the parents separated. If the parents weren't married, retroactive support can be ordered back to the date of the child's birth. However, each state sets a time limit on how far back a judge can order retroactive child support.
Is Retroactive Child Support Late?
Retroactive child support is different from child support arrearages. Retroactive support deals with the time before a permanent order begins. Child support arrearages cover money ordered by a court in a permanent order that the non-custodial parent hasn't paid. State laws vary, so check with your lawyer and get the child support arrangement that your child deserves.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What is the time limit in our state for asking for retroactive support?
- Must a father pay retroactive support if his child's mother didn't tell him about the child?
- Does the law in our state limit the amount or time covered by a retroactive child support order?