Court Denies Award of Retroactive Child Support: Carroll v. Carroll

Facts

The parties in this case were married for eleven years. They separated in 2007, and the Husband filed for divorce at that time. The Wife waited three years, until 2010, to file an answer and counter-complaint for divorce. After the Wife’s filing, the Husband was ordered to pay $628 per month in child support, and the Wife requested retroactive child support back to the date of the parties’ separation in 2007.

At trial, the parties bothcheckwriting01 testified that the Husband had been making monthly payments on a car loan for a vehicle that was driven by the Wife. The Husband paid $667 per month on this vehicle from the time of the parties’ separation until the loan was paid off. Both the Husband and Wife were responsible for the debt on this vehicle. The Husband testified that the parties had an oral agreement that the Husband would make the car payments in lieu of child support during their separation. The Wife, however, denied that the parties had any agreement, but she did admit that any money the Husband had paid for child support would have been used to pay the car loan.

The trial court, therefore, denied the Wife’s request for retroactive child support, finding that the Wife would have used any child support received during the separation to pay the car payment. Therefore, the trial court found that the payments were essentially the same as if the Husband had paid child support directly to the Wife, making retroactive child support inappropriate under the circumstances.

Appeal

The court of appeals affirmed the decision of the trial court. All parents have an obligation to financially support his or her children until they reach the age of majority. Courts in Tennessee provide for the support of children using the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines, which have been set forth by the Department of Human Services. These Guidelines serve as a rebuttable presumption of the amount of child support that should be paid each month.

These Guidelines provide that a judgment for initial child support must include any amount of monthly support dating back to the date of the parties’ separation, unless there is evidence to rebut the presumption that retroactive child support should be awarded.

The Court of Appeals noted that the monthly car payments made by Husband exceeded his child support obligation by $39.00. Therefore, over the life of the car loan, the Husband paid $2,106 on the Wife’s behalf that he would have been required to pay in child support. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to require the Husband to pay an additional $628 per month in retroactive child support. Furthermore, because the Wife would hvae used the child support money to pay the car loan, it would be inequitable to require payment of retroactive child support.

Carroll v. Carroll (Tennessee Court of Appeals, January 30, 2013)

Before you begin making payments in the manner set forth in this case, I would advise you to contact a local family law attorney. In many cases, you may not receive credit for payment of money or other “gifts” if it is not clearly labeled and understood as child support. To protect yourself, make sure you seek a consultation with an experienced child support lawyer before beginning payments that are made in any form other than direct payment of money for child support. Furthermore, never make child support payments in cash. Always make sure you keep a record of what has been paid.

Another point the Court of Appeals focused on was the fact that the Wife allowed these payments to continue. The Wife testified that she did not agree that the car payments should replace child support during their separation. However, she also failed to file anything with the court for three years, she retained possession of the vehicle, and most importantly, the Husband began making the car payments and the Wife let it go. If you wish to seek a judgment for retroactive child support, keep this in mind. Do not let too much time pass before you request the temporary child support, and do not simply go along with an alternative form of payment with which you do not agree.

If you have questions about paying or receiving child support, contact our office today to schedule your free consultation. We are experienced in child support, custody, divorce and separation issues, and we represent clients throughout Middle Tennessee in these areas. Call today if you live in one of the following cities: Nashville, Brentwood, Franklin, Spring Hill, Columbia, Nolensville, Murfreesboro, Smyrna, Antioch, Madison, Hendersonville, Gallatin, Lebanon, Clarksville, Ashland City, Dickson, or Fairview.

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