Can Florida Impose Interest on Child Support Arrearage?
Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law
Florida child support is calculated based on child support guidelines established by statute. In Florida, child support is based on the combined income of the parties and their pro rata (apportioned rate) that they each contribute. The calculation allows for credits to be given the to the parent that pays child’s insurance and daycare expenses. As a Jacksonville family lawyer, I often explain to clients that child support is based on their relative incomes because the child is entitled to live as if the parents were under the same roof. However, once child support is established, the court can enforce any back-owed child support up to two years from the date of the original filing of a petition for support. In that situation, the court can actually establish arrearage that must be paid back, sometimes at a minimal rate.
Recently, there was an appeal regarding whether child support arrearage can have an interest rate attached to it and if there can be a change to how it is paid back, since often it is at $20 per month. The Florida appellate court laid out the following guidelines for establishing interest and payments:
a. That a final order creates or establishes the presumption that the responsible party has an ability to pay the child support ordered and a presumption that the paying party would have the ability to pay the purge amount (full amount owed) at the time of a contempt hearing. A contempt or enforcement hearing is normally held when one or both parties fail to perform in accordance with the court.
b. At the contempt hearing, the responsible party has the burden of proving that s/he lacks the ability to pay.
c. The installment payments established for back child support must be reasonable and an amount that has the child support arrearage paid back by the time the child reaches the age of majority (18 or graduates from high school).
d. If the receiving party requests an interest be charged, then the court must grant the interest. The interest would start at the time when the obligation was due.
What this helps to establish is that there is an ability to get interest on past owed child support. Interest is determined by Florida statute and is often updated on an annual basis given changes in inflation. The other factor that this helps establish is that back-owed child support needs to be pain, in full, by the time the child support obligation ends so that there are not pending payments owed until the child is in his/her 50s, since that defeats the point of child support as it is intended by law.