As a matter of both family law and public policy, both biological parents have an obligation to support their children until the “age of majority.” The age of majority in Alabama is 19.
Following the end of a marriage, it is the duty of the parent without primary custody to provide ongoing, periodic financial support to the primary custodial parent until the children are 19.
In Dallas County, Alabama, in Clay v. Clay, the Court addressed whether a parent may seek child support even after the child has reached the age of majority. In 1982 the wife was granted custody of the parties’ three children, who were all minors at the time of the divorce.
The husband was ordered to pay $225 per month as child support. 34 years later, in 2016, the wife filed an action against the husband for failure to make any of those payments. The wife sought an order by the trial court requiring the husband to appear and explain why he had never paid.
The husband responded to the wife’s action by saying that the couple’s youngest son had reached the age of majority in 1995. The husband hoped to show that the statute of limitations barred the action because actions must be commenced within 20 years, thus making the wife one year too late.
At trial, the husband testified that he was never aware that he had been ordered to pay child support. He did however, buy a car for one of the children and give occasional money. The trial court however, awarded the wife a judgment for amounting to the money she had been owed since October 19, 1982 ($225 per month).
On appeal, the husband again argued that the wife was too late in bringing her claim. The Court disagreed. A former custodial parent may bring a suit for past-due child support even after the child has reached the age of majority. The husband’s appeal was dismissed.
The main takeaway here is even if the other parent has not been paying for decades (decades long enough that the children are out of the house), the parent with custody still may go to the court and seek payment of the child support for all of those years.
This is considered “contempt” or being disobedient toward the court. Because child support is a court order, the court has the power to assess the payment of child support years later. Plus, when child support is that late, the court can add interest to the payments.
I have personally collected child support after a number of years. Sometimes one parent may inherit money or change jobs and have a better financial picture.
If you believe you have a child support collection case, you should have an experienced, knowledgeable attorney on your side to ensure you and your family’s rights are protected. Contact INGRAM LAW LLC at (205) 335-2640 for an attorney with the experience and knowledge that can make all the difference.