Back Child Support: What Is It and How Does It Work?

back child support

Author: Shantanece Ellis is an Associate Attorney in Cordell & Cordell’s Atlanta, Ga., office.

This page serves as a quick guide to help people better understand back child support and provide them with resources to pursue next steps.

What Is Back Child Support?

Child support is the payment of money from one parent to the other parent in order to help support the needs of the child(ren). Once a parent falls behind on his or her child support payments, that parent now owes the other parent the overdue payments. This is referred to as back child support. The parent in the arrears will have to continue to make on time payments moving forward in addition to paying back all of the missing payments.

What is the Difference Between Back Child Support and Retroactive Child Support?

Back child support is different from “retroactive child support” primarily because of the language in the child support order. If a judge orders child support to be paid by one parent to the other parent, the judge will specify the period of time that the payments will cover. For example, the child support order will begin on a specific date (e.g. May 1st) and likely last until the child(ren) reach the age of majority or are emancipated. Retroactive child support is not considered late payments and therefore different from back child support.

The judge will either order prospective or retroactive child support to begin on the specified date.  Prospective child support is the typical child support that is ordered which will cover the needs of the child(ren) beginning on the start date until the specified end date. Retroactive child support is ordered to cover the needs of the child(ren) from the child(ren)’s date of birth. The start date would be the date in the order, but the amount awarded would take into account all of the months prior to the order being entered. These are not back child support payments because there is no order in place that the parent was delinquent on for them to be considered back child support payment. The retroactive child support would reimburse the other parent for their portion of the expenses incurred since the child(ren) was born. Some states, including Georgia, allow judges to retroactively award child support for expenses incurred during pregnancy. This is state-specific and would depend on the case law in your specific state.

How Can You Know if Back Child Support is Owed?

The best way to know if you owe or are owed back child support is to contact your local child support office. There will be a record of all payments made and any outstanding payments that are owed. Some states have apps or portals to quickly check the status of child support payments. You can also contact an attorney for assistance collecting back child support or making arrangements to make up the missed payments.

How Far Back Can Back Child Support Go?

Courts will look to the specific details in the child support order to determine how far back the missing/delinquent payments go. This will determine how far back the back child support payments go. Judges will count all of the payments since the start date in the order and how many of those payments were not made. Even if retroactive child support was ordered, the amount from prior to the order is not considered late payments and therefore not back child support. Back child support is only for payments that were ordered and then subsequently not paid.

Are There Penalties for Unpaid Back Child Support?

The penalties for failure to pay child support can include state and/or federal consequences. Some states may stop you from obtaining a license or suspending current licenses if you owe back child support. That can be a hunting license, drivers license, etc. However, professional licenses such as a license to practice law are not affected by back child support. Other penalties for back child support are denial of passport, garnishment of wages, property seizure, jail time, and seizure of tax refunds.

Will Back Child Support Take Your Stimulus Check?

Under the COVID Relief Bill, only the first stimulus check would be affected by back child support payments. If you owe back child support, then a portion (or all) of the first stimulus check was garnished to pay any arrears. The second and third stimulus checks are not subject to being withheld due to back child support payments. However, this may affect your tax refund but notice will be provided if your tax refund is applied to child support arrears.

Is A Lawyer Needed for Back Child Support Payments?

Although an attorney is not needed for back child support issues, they can be very beneficial for either arguing or collecting back child support payments. A child support order is an order issued by the Court that must be complied with. If someone is violating that order or needs changes made to that order then an attorney is a great asset to enforce or modify the current child support order. Cordell & Cordell has helped numerous clients dispute these payments and even modify child support when circumstances have changed.

Child support can be a difficult thing to navigate whether you are paying it or receiving it. Luckily, attorneys like the ones that work for Cordell & Cordell have years of experience handling these types of cases. Not only can we help you understand the difference between retroactive and back child support but also guide you through your next steps.  Feel free to contact us and schedule an initial consultation to discuss your specific child support situation.

Whether you owe or are owed back child support, it is important to assess the amount and know how to move forward. Child support is designed to help support child(ren) financially and there are serious consequences when child support orders are not followed. Contact your local child support office and/or an attorney sooner rather than later to resolve your child support issues.

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