What is Retroactive Child Support in Minnesota?

what is retroactive child support

Retroactive child support refers to a court order requiring the non-custodial parent to pay “back” child support to the custodial parent to cover time periods in the past when the non-custodial parent failed to provide financial support for the child. This type of child support order is commonly issued in situations where one parent initially did not pay child support as required by state child support laws.

Retroactive child support can provide important financial assistance to the custodial parent who shouldered the costs of raising the child without the financial contribution from the non-custodial parent during the time period in question. However, obtaining a retroactive child support order can be complicated. Here is what you need to know about retroactive child support in Minnesota.

When Can Retroactive Child Support Be Ordered in Minnesota?

In Minnesota, a court may order retroactive child support in the following situations:

  • The non-custodial parent was ordered to pay child support but failed to pay the full amount as required. The custodial parent can request retroactive child support to recover the unpaid amounts.
  • The parents were never married, and paternity was established after the child’s birth. Once paternity is legally established, the court can order the non-custodial parent to pay retroactive support back to the date of the child’s birth.
  • The parents are divorced, but child support was not established as part of the divorce. Later, one parent files a motion to establish child support. The court can order retroactive support back to when the motion was filed.
  • A parent seeks to modify an existing child support order. If approved, the modification can take effect retroactively on the date the motion to modify was filed.

Essentially, retroactive child support aims to recover support a child should have received in the past, according to Minnesota child support laws. The key is filing a motion to establish initial child support or modify an existing order. Once the motion is filed, any subsequent child support order can be made retroactive to that date.

How Is the Amount of Retroactive Support Calculated in Minnesota?

If a Minnesota court decides that retroactive support should be paid, the amount is calculated according to the child support guidelines. The guidelines provide a formula to determine child support amounts based on both parents’ incomes and other factors like how much time each parent spends with the child.

To calculate retroactive support, the court will determine what each parent’s income was during the period for which retroactive support is being ordered. The court can use tax returns, pay stubs, or other financial records to determine incomes during the retroactive period.

Once past incomes are determined, the guidelines formula is applied just as if child support were being calculated today. This retroactively calculates what the proper amount of support should have been.

Importantly, the court cannot order an amount of retroactive support that exceeds what would have been owed under the guidelines during that time. So even if the custodial parent incurred very high child-related costs, the retroactive support is still limited to the guideline amount.

Does Minnesota Cap How Far Back Retroactive Support Can Be Ordered?

Yes, Minnesota law limits how far back retroactive child support can be ordered in most cases:

  • Arrears cannot exceed two years under the guidelines for retroactive support ordered as part of an initial child support order.
  • If retroactive support is ordered when modifying an existing order, arrears cannot exceed two years from when the modification motion was served.
  • The only exception is when retroactive support is ordered against someone who intentionally failed to pay previously owed support. Then, the court has the discretion to order arrears beyond two years.

So, in most cases, retroactive support ordered in Minnesota is limited to two years of arrears. Even if the parents separated long ago, the retroactive period is capped at two years from today’s date or the modification date.

Is There Any Way to Avoid Paying Retroactive Support in Minnesota?

Since retroactive child support is within the court’s discretion in Minnesota, there are some potential defenses parents can raise:

  • No ability to pay previously – If the parent can show they did not have the financial means to pay child support during the retroactive period, this can persuade the judge not to order back support.
  • Custodial parent denied access – If the custodial parent denied or interfered with the non-custodial parent’s visitation rights, judges can decide not to order retroactive support for that period.
  • Unreasonable delay – If the custodial parent waited unreasonably before seeking retroactive support, judges sometimes see that as a defense against ordering it.
  • Detrimental reliance – If the non-custodial parent can show they relied on the lack of a support order (like by taking on more expenses), this argument may also defeat a retroactive support claim.

However, courts are still very strict about parents supporting their children. So, while defenses exist, actually avoiding retroactive support is an uphill battle except in limited cases. Having an experienced child support attorney argue against retroactive support will be essential.

Is There a Deadline for Seeking Retroactive Child Support in Minnesota?

There is no fixed statutory deadline for requesting retroactive child support in Minnesota. Either parent can file a motion seeking retroactive support any time a case is active unless it has been explicitly waived in writing.

That said, courts will not look favorably on a parent who waits many years before trying to obtain retroactive support. The other parent may argue laches – an unreasonable delay that prejudices them. So, while there is no firm deadline, seeking retroactive support in a timely manner is advisable.

What Happens if the Retroactive Support Obligation Isn’t Paid?

If a Minnesota court orders one parent to pay retroactive child support and they fail to pay it as required, the amounts owed become a judgment against that parent. This means the custodial parent can take steps to collect on the judgment, such as:

  • Requesting the court to garnish the parent’s wages
  • Putting liens on the parent’s assets and property
  • Levying the parent’s bank accounts
  • Suspending any professional or driver’s licenses
  • Imposing fines for contempt of court

In serious cases, the non-paying parent may also face jail time if found in contempt of the child support order. Failing to pay retroactive support can quickly spiral into severe consequences.

Can Retroactive Support Be Awarded if the Child is Now an Adult?

Yes, the court can order retroactive support even if the child is emancipated or no longer a minor. The duty to support a child extends until the child turns 18 or graduates high school, whichever is later.

So, if the custodial parent later seeks retroactive support for time periods when the child was still a minor, the court can award back child support regardless of the child’s current age. The focus is on recovering support the child was entitled to in the past as a minor.

Can Parents Negotiate Retroactive Support Themselves?

Parents can always agree to retroactive support through an out-of-court settlement, which can then be presented to the court in a stipulated order. However, both parents must voluntarily agree.

If one parent demands retroactive support and the other refuses, only a court order can require payment. Filing a motion and obtaining a court order is the only option without an agreement.

Working with a Child Support Attorney

Navigating retroactive child support in Minnesota can be challenging for parents and caregivers. The laws are complex, and these cases often stir up emotions on both sides. Having an experienced family law attorney assist you can be invaluable.

The lawyers at Martine Law have extensive experience handling all types of child support cases in Minnesota, including ones involving retroactive support claims. We help clients understand their rights and obligations when it comes to providing for children financially. Our attorneys can represent you in negotiations and court proceedings to advocate for a fair outcome for your family.

If you seek retroactive support or wish to defend against such a claim in Minnesota, we recommend you contact a lawyer immediately.

Author Bio

Xavier Martine

Xavier Martine is the Founder of Martine Law, a Minnesota criminal defense and family law firm. Serving clients in Minneapolis, MN, and surrounding areas, he is dedicated to representing clients in a wide range of criminal matters, including DWIs, drug charges, misdemeanors, domestic violence, and other criminal charges. He also represents clients in family law matters, including divorce, child support, and child custody.

Xavier received his Juris Doctor from the Mitchell Hamline School of Law and is a member of the Minnesota State Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being named among the “Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorneys Under 40 in Minnesota” in 2021 by The National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys. He was also named the “Best DUI Lawyer in Minneapolis” award in 2023 by Expertise.com and a “Rising Star” in 2023 by SuperLawyers.

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