Collecting Unpaid Child Support

child custody attorney

child custody attorneyIf the mother or father of your child has failed to pay child support as required by a court order, then you should be able to collect up to 10 years of the accrued balance owed.

When a parent is ordered by a court (i.e., a “consent order” or an order entered by a judge after a hearing) to pay a certain amount in child support, that parent is liable for any amount of child support he or she has not paid in the past 10 years. To collect unpaid child support, a parent may file a motion with the court requesting that the other parent be held in contempt for his or her failure to pay.

10 Years to Collect Unpaid Child Support

The ability of a parent to collect unpaid child support was recently addressed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals in Malinak v. Malinak, COA 14-1354, (N.C. Ct. App. Aug. 18, 2015). In Malinak, the father entered into a consent order in 2000 that obligated him to pay the mother $400 per month in child support. The father failed to make all required payments. In 2014, the mother filed a contempt motion alleging that the father owed her $48,000 in unpaid child support.

After a hearing on the mother’s motion, the trial court entered an order holding the father in contempt for his failure to pay child support. However, the trial court ordered that the father only owed the mother $6,800 of the alleged $48,000 in unpaid child support. The trial court concluded that the “doctrine of laches” barred the mother from recovering unpaid child support prior to 2011. In a nutshell, the trial court concluded that the mother lost her chance to recover all of the unpaid child support because she waited too long to seek recovery.

On the mother’s appeal, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held that the trial court was wrong in relying on the doctrine of laches to limit the mother’s recovery of unpaid child support. Because the father was obligated to pay court-ordered child support, the only limitation on the mother’s motion to enforce the child support order was the applicable 10-year statute of limitations.

How to Collect Unpaid Child Support

The first step in collecting unpaid child support is deciding to exercise your rights to compel payment and recover any amount accrued. Due to the unique facts of each situation, as well as other variables typically present in cases involving unpaid child support, a consultation with a family law attorney can often assist with such a decision. At the consultation, the attorney will listen to you describe your situation and will discuss the various ways in which you may be able to recover unpaid child support. Possible paths to recovery range from demand letters to contempt motions and will be determined by your goals and the particular facts of your case.