How many years can go by for the non-custodial spouse to collect unpaid
child support—and what law applies to the unpaid child support? There is a twenty
(20) year time limit for the custodial parent to sue the non-paying parent
for back child support, but in that length of time the law regarding child
support often changes. Does the enforcing court apply the current law
for child support--or the law that was in force when the order of support
was entered? A recent case from the Colorado Court of Appeals clarified
how new laws should apply to the applicable deadlines for such a claim.
In this case the mother originally claimed that the child support arrearages
totaled $893,285 for the support owed plus interest because the father
had stopped paying for child support when the last child turned 18. After
proceedings in the lower courts, a judgment of arrears was ultimately
entered against the father for $155,000, which was the order reviewed
by the Court of Appeals.
The divorce was final in 1983, when the law required support of a child
until age 21, but the order of dissolution contained no specific date
of termination of the child support obligation. Applying laws that have
changed after 1983, the Court ruled that the new laws applied and the
father's obligation to pay child support automatically ended when
the last child of the marriage turned 19, not 21. The new law effectively
modified the old order of child support—reducing the amount of child
support in arrears. (Had the mother sought enforcement or modification
of the child support arrearages before the law changed in 1991, she may
have been able to have the court affirm and preserve the original order
for child support until the last child turned 21.) In this case, the Court
held that the father was only in arrears for one year of child support,
Although the length of child support was reduced for the non-paying father,
the court held that the law provided that interest could be charged on
the child support that was owed. The law, which permits compound interest
on child support arrearages, is a mandatory law that cannot be "waived,"
even if the mother delays for many years in pursuing collection of the
arrearages (thus driving up the accrued interest). The court noted that
the support payment is for the child, not the parent, and thus the custodial
parent cannot give up the child's claim for child support.
Even applying the compound interest statute to the amount the father owed
of $4,800, from 1995 to the present date, the father will pay a lot less
than the $893,285 originally sought by the mother.