It is never a good idea to wait to collect child support. In many cases, waiting to collect child support can lead to losing the ability to collect child support altogether, although these laws vary from state to state. A case earlier this year from California is a drastic example of waiting too long to enforce a child support order, although California laws are much more forgiving when it comes to support.
Man Ordered to Pay $150,000
The California case involves a father who left his family when his child was very young. The mother had raised the child into adulthood, for the next 50 years. The father had previously been ordered to pay child support, but had fled to Canada when the child was very young. According to the article, it “dawned on” the mother that the father had never lived up to his child support obligations.
At a hearing to determine how much back child support was owed, the father showed up in court and asked for forgiveness for the 50 years of unpaid support. It appears that the mother did forgive him, but not from paying back owed support. The court entered a judgment that included $35,000 in back support, but which ballooned to $150,000 when interest and penalties were included.
The father apparently believed that he had a “gentleman’s agreement” or a handshake agreement with the mother from many years ago that absolved him of child support payments.
Time Limits on Child Support Obligations
Like California, New Jersey has no statute of limitations (a time limit to bring a legal action) on the collection of child support. However, that means there is no limitation on enforcing a child support judgment that has already been ordered but is not being followed. There are still time limitations for obtaining an initial child support order.
For example, retroactive child support (back owed support) can usually only go back to the date of the filing of the petition requesting child support (or the dissolution of marriage petition).
Additionally, in New Jersey, a parent that is owed child support has five years after the child is emancipated (reaches the legal age considered adulthood, which is 19 in New Jersey but no later than the child’s 23rd birthday) to collect any back owed child support.
This means that you must first determine when the child support obligation terminated (i.e., whether it terminated when the child turned 19, 23, or somewhere in between, which will vary depending on whether you petitioned for extended support based on special circumstances). The time limit to collect support that was not paid will expire five years after the termination date.
Getting a Modification
An inability to pay back owed support may keep someone from being thrown in jail for non-payment, but it will not make the obligation go away. Parents who are unable to pay a child support payment must petition immediately to modify the amount–they cannot get out of paying money that is already owed by saying that the amount ordered to be paid was too high.
Whether you pay or receive child support, make sure you understand how the system works. Contact The Law Office of Agnes Rybar LLC for help and guidance in your family law case.