Arrears do not simply vanish once your child turns 18. Not in any state. Child support is meant to help provide the lifestyle your children would have had if you and your ex had stayed together. If he hasn’t been paying, he owes you for covering his share. It is an unfulfilled debt until you receive every penny. That said, many states have a statute of limitations on arrears, and the laws around them vary from state to state.
In 25 states and Washington D.C., arrears eventually expire. The statute can last anywhere from 4 years in Utah to 35 in Oregon. In many states the statute can be renewed if there is action taken such as a collection or a judgment issued. States also differ on when to start applying the statute. They can start applying the statute when the child support obligation is terminated, or when each individual payment is due.
All Payments Together
Some states consider the arrears as one lump sum, and start applying the statute for the entire amount on a specific date. It can either start the day the child reaches the age of majority or when the last child support payment was due. For example, if Sarah lived in Wisconsin the statute would start when her child turns 18 and last for 20 years, while in Michigan, Sarah would have ten years to collect, starting on the date her final child support payment is due.
Other states view each child support payment separately, so each payment has an expiration date. Suppose Sarah lives in New York, where the statute of limitations is 20 years. If she was owed a child support payment on January 13th, 2012 she would have until January 13th, 2032 to collect that payment. A payment due two weeks later would have its own expiration date, despite those two payments coming from the same child support order. If your state views each payment separately, keeping track of each payment’s due date and amount can come in handy.
A few states require you to have a judgment to collect arrears after your child has grown up. Child support orders in these states aren’t valid after your child reaches the age of majority unless there is a judgment for the arrears. For example, in Vermont, you have eight years to collect with a judgment, which can be renewed.
A large portion of states, 22, have no statute of limitations at all on arrears. You can pursue your support in these states no matter how long it has been with no need for renewal. If you live in states such as Texas, Florida, or California, you have every right to pursue your arrears 20, 30, even 50 years after the payments were due. Until the amount is paid in full, your ex owes that money to you.
When It’s Between State Lines
The variation in the statute of limitations between states can become messy when there are multiple states involved in a case. If you live in New Mexico, where the statute of limitations is 14 years, but your ex lives in Oregon, where the limit is 35 years, which law is in effect?
By the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) laws, the longer statute is the one that takes effect as long as child support enforcement does the collecting. So, in this case, Oregon’s statute of limitations would take precedent.
The wide-ranging laws around the statute of limitations for child support can be confusing, but knowing how they work in your state can help you plan how you can continue to fight for the money you are rightfully owed.