If, since the trial, there have been several appellate and trial orders re-setting and amending an original award of child support, how far back does retroactive child support go? The Court of Appeals addressed that question in Wojtala II, and ruled that retroactive support can go as far back as possible.
In Alabama retractive child support is routinely covered to address gap period from the time someone requests child support and the time at which the court makes a final determination of child support. (In essence the time from the usual start to the usual end of the case.) . If the party that is ordered to pay child support hasn’t been paying – or hasn’t been paying enough – during that gap period, there’s going to be a retroactive award of child support.
It is not uncommon for that gap period to be many months long. While most cases settle, many don’t, and the time between starting a case and getting to a trial is almost always more than a year. When they don’t settle the judge’s decision may not issue for days, weeks, and sometimes months after the trial.
The matter isn’t final until the judge issues a written order. If the person obligated to pay child support hasn’t been paying the full amount as ordered by the court, they could wind up with very a large arrearage. The arrearage, the amount of retroactive support due, is then divided up into installments and tacked on to increase the existing – forward looking – child support award.
In a recent case, Wojtala II, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals instead of looking back at the time before a final orders hearing had to look at the time period after a final orders hearing.
As the “II” in Wojtala II belies, the case had been to the Court of Civil Appeals before. On it’s first trip up the appellate ladder, the parent receiving child support arugued that the trial court had gotten the amount wrong in it’s order (“Order Number 1”). The appellate court agreed and ruled (in “Order Number 2”) that trial court had calculated trial support incorrectly. It was too low, the appellate court said.
When the case was sent back down to the trial court, it determined the proper amount going forward (“Order Number 3”), but also set a retro active amount of support dating all the way back to the original order.
In this case, if child support started at “Order Number 3” there would have been no retroactive support due because there was no time for support to accrue. However, there were 13 months between “Order Number 1” and “Order Number 2” and another 3 months between “Order Number 2” and “Order Number 3.”
The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals ruled that the clock starts at “Order Number 1.” By using the earliest accrual date, the date of the original trial court order, the party paying child support had an arrearage of retroactive support in excess of $15,000.
Read the decision from the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals here and contact Browne House Law about divorce, support, and appeals.