This year the Tennessee General Assembly made several changes to past-due child support laws. These changes will affect both parents paying support and parents receiving it.
Legislature Lowers the Interest Rate for Child Support Arrears
One of the most notable changes is to the interest on child support arrearages. Arrearages are delinquent child support payments that accrue when a parent did not pay child support when it was due or did not pay the full amount. Those past-due child support payments, once ordered by the court, used to carry a mandatory interest rate of twelve percent (12%) per annum. In today’s world that’s a substantial interest rate, higher than the interest rate on most loans.
Under the change in the law which became effective April 17, 2017 the addition of interest to past-due child support is no longer automatic. Now the court must make a written finding that interest should be added. The court can consider various factors in deciding whether interest should be applied as well as the rate of interest to be applied. Even where a court finds that interest should be applied to an arrearage the interest rate can be no more than 4% per annum.
Amount of Time for Which Retroactive Support Can Be Ordered Is Also Reduced
Another change to the child support law will reduce the period of time for which a court can decide that retroactive child support should be paid. Previously when setting child support for the first time, a court could go all the way back to the date of a child’s birth if the non-custodial parent had not paid any support before. Retroactive support could be awarded no matter how old the child might be when the court made the award. This prior law allowed courts to award retroactive support for up to 18 years if the parent had not paid anything toward a child’s support or necessaries.
Under the revised law courts are limited to retroactive support awards of no more than five years prior to the filing of the child support petition. The court can still find that a longer or shorter period of retroactive support is warranted by the facts in an individual case. The new law does not apply to the Department of Human Services when it is seeking an award of retroactive child support. This new law will be effective July 1, 2017.
These changes to child support laws should make it easier for non-custodial parents to pay off awards of past-due child support. Previously retroactive child support awards and large arrearage judgments sometimes had parents paying support long after the child or children involved had reached adulthood.