Child support arrearage (the buildup of child support that hasn’t been paid as ordered by the court) has gotten some attention recently. In a Georgia Court of Appeals case (Wright v. Burch, 331 Ga. App. 839, 771 S.E.2d 490 (2015)), it was found that neither parties nor a trial court could reduce the total amount of child support that is owed under an existing court order. Only a repayment schedule of past-due support can be negotiated by the parties (or ordered by the court) as long as the amount of arrearage can be accurately determined.
Why is this important? Well, for years, parents have been able to negotiate (and mediators mediate) new arrearage amounts as a part of settlement of a case. This ruling and the accompanying Advisory Opinion by the Georgia Commission on Dispute Resolution issued November 2, 12016, change that practice.
Here's an example. Let’s say parents end up in court because one owes the other back child support. Neither parent knows the exact amount because it’s been so long and the monthly amounts were inconsistent and well, no one really kept good records. But they agree it’s probably somewhere close to $6,000. The parent who was ordered to pay child support is (still) underemployed making close to minimum wage. The parent who was supposed to receive support is remarried and gainfully employed making plenty of money. Add to this that the child for whom support was ordered has aged out and is now in college.
The payer wants to make right in the situation but can only afford a lower amount each month. The payee doesn’t currently need the monthly money but their college-attending child does. In mediation, the parents agree to reduce the overall arrearage amount to $4,800 and the monthly amount to $100, which provides support for four years of college. This works for everyone because the payer can reasonable comply and the college-aged child can receive some support.
Sounds reasonable, right?
Now two things are different. 1. The total amount cannot be reduced, and 2. A new repayment plan can be implemented only if a copy of the original order is presented along with documentation of monies paid and received to determine an accurate amount owed.
In other words, no more guesstimations on what’s owed even if the parties want to agree on a number to be able to move forward.
Bottom line: keep records of payments and receipts.