This has to be the number one question I get in child support enforcement court. “I haven’t even seen this child in years, she didn’t tell me she was pregnant! Why do I have to pay support for years when I didn’t even know she existed?”
I can see why this doesn’t make sense. How can you owe a debt based on a child that you didn’t even know existed?
Well, legally, you can. As I often say, you might not agree with it, you might not think it’s right, but it is still the law.
First, a parent has the legal duty to financially support his or her child. This is the starting point for every child support case.
Second, our courts have looked at the question of whether this financial support hinges upon whether you get visitation or custody. The answer? No. Check out Appert v. Appert, 80 N.C.App. 27, 341 S.E.2d 342 (1986); Sowers v. Toliver, 150 N.C.App. 114, 562 S.E.2d 593 (2002).
Now you have found out you have this child, let’s say she is five years old, and the child support enforcement agent is telling you that you owe thousands of dollars in arrears – back child support. This is the second most common area of confusion for my clients.
You owe child support back from when the child was born! Why? Because our legislature said so, that’s why. If the monies are owed only to the custodial parent, that custodial parent can agree to have the arrearages (back child support) modified.
Sometimes the monies owed are actually owed to the government. This is because if your child received any sort of government assistance, that creates a debt that you must repay to the state. Generally, these arrearages are not modifiable, although there are limited exceptions.
Keep in mind these are general rules. There are exceptions. Child support amounts must be based upon the parent’s ability to pay, and if the amount is not reasonable, you might not be liable for nonpayment of child support. If you are behind in your child support, you might be able to modify your obligation or add additional payments to make up for your arrears. And if you are facing contempt charges for failure to pay child support, hire an attorney to keep you out of jail!
Blog post author Sarah Jessica Farber is a solo practitioner in Sanford, North Carolina, with a statewide criminal defense practice in criminal trials, appeals, and post-conviction litigation in our state and federal courts. She was named a Rising Star by Super Lawyers in 2016, serves on the Executive Committee of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, and also serves as Chair of the NCAJ New Lawyers Division. For more on the Farber Law Firm, visit http://sjfarberlaw.com/.