When a child support order is established, the noncustodial parent is legally obligated to pay. Any back or unpaid child support owed to a parent is referred to as child support arrears. All states have statutes of limitations that define how long a creditor has to seek legal action for a debt. The statute of limitations for child support arrears in some states ranges from 10 to 20 years. However, the majority of states have no statute of limitations, which means there's no limit to how long a parent has to collect money owed.
Age of Maturity
Child support payments can be terminated when the child reaches the age of maturity. This usually occurs at 18 but varies among states. For example, in Alabama the age of maturity is 19. In Arizona, child support payments can stop at 18 but also can continue until the child finishes high school, up to age 19. In New York and Mississippi, payments aren't terminated until the child turns 21, unless specified otherwise in the child support order.
Establishing a Support Order
In most states, paternity must be established before the child is 18 years old. If paternity isn't established by the time the child reaches 18, child support isn't due. However, there's no age limit to establishing paternity or child support in all states. For example, even after the child is 18, a parent can attempt to seek child support and retroactive payments for her child in California.
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Statute of Limitations for Arrears
The Arkansas and Idaho statute of limitations on enforcing child support arrears is five years past age the age of 18. In New York, the enforcement of child support arrears is limited to 20 years from date of default. Indiana statute of limitations allows parents to collect back child support for 10 years after the child reaches the age of maturity. In many other states, including California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Texas, there's no statute of limitations for collecting arrears.
Enforcing Child Support
Every state has a child support department that provides child support establishment and enforcement services to custodial parents. The state's child support department also enforces any arrears until they are paid or until the statute of limitations expires. With the court's approval, a custodial parent may choose to forgive or waive child support arrears.