Can Child Support Payments Be Retroactive?: Yes in D.C., But Not in Maryland

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The Maryland and D.C. divorce attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl are sometimes asked whether child support payments can be retroactive. Sometimes, the question is phrased as: “When do Maryland/D.C. child support payments begin?” In this article, we’ll offer some answers to these questions.

We define “retroactive child support payments” as payments ordered by a Maryland/D.C. divorce court for the support of a child or children that “look backward” before the date that the divorce was filed. Note that all divorce courts can order “retroactive child support” for temporary child support. This is normal. Say the divorce was filed on February 1st, but the court did not order child support until March 1st. The court will order the paying spouse/payment to make payments retroactively from February 1st.

However, our question is whether a divorce court can order child support payments that predate the filing of the divorce.

Can retroactive child support be ordered that predates the filing of the divorce in D.C.?

The answer is “yes” in the District of Columbia. In D.C., a divorce court is empowered to order child support payments for up to 24 months preceding the filing of the request for child support. See D.C. Code § 16-916.01(v).

The “request for child support” is often included in the initial petition for dissolution of marriage. But the first request might come shortly thereafter in a separate court pleading. Further, in some cases, where “… the parent to whom support is owed proves that the parent with a legal duty to pay support has acted in bad faith or there are other extraordinary circumstances …”

In terms of determining the retroactive child support due, the D.C. statutory guidelines are used in the same manner as calculating current child support payments. That is, child support payments are calculated first by taking the combined total income of the parents and then cross-referencing that amount along with the number of children on the statutory guidelines. The number in the “box” is the total amount that the D.C. lawmakers say should be spent by the parents on their child/children. This total is then divided between the parents based on their percentage contribution to the total. So, a 60% contribution to the total would result in paying 60% of the child support listed in the guidelines.

However, in awarding retroactive child support, the D.C. divorce court is allowed to take into account “… current ability to pay of the parent” who will be ordered to pay retroactively. The paying parent will also receive “credit” for any voluntary payments made.

In terms of ordering more than 24 months of retroactive child support, the D.C. statute does not define or identify any factors or criteria that would establish “bad faith” or “extraordinary circumstances.”

Can retroactive child support be ordered that predates the filing of the divorce in Maryland?

No. Unlike D.C., Maryland lawmakers have not authorized Maryland divorce courts to award retroactive child support that predates the filing of the divorce. M.D. Code, Family Law, § 12-101.

Maryland And D.C. Family Law Attorneys

Contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and D.C. family law lawyers at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl for more information. We have the skills and expertise you need. We have proven experience with family law for Maryland and the District of Columbia. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD, and Washington, DC.

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