New Jersey does not allow judges to award retroactive child support. But before you assume you cannot collect past child support, you must understand the scope of the New Jersey rule against retroactive child support.

Retroactive child support is not the same as unpaid child support. Instead, retroactive child support covers the period before a child support order or modification went into effect.

Here is some information about retroactive child support in New Jersey and what you can and cannot collect.

What is Retroactive Child Support?

Retroactive child support is child support before a parent files a divorce or paternity action. 

Suppose that you and your spouse separated before filing for divorce. During the time you lived separately, your children lived with you, and you supported them financially. When you finally file for divorce, you might feel that your spouse owes you child support for the time you were separated.

Similarly, suppose that your spouse abandoned the family. While your spouse was gone, you supported your children without your spouse’s help. You might feel justified filing a divorce that requests child support going back to the date of abandonment.

Finally, suppose that you raised your child for six years before hiring a family lawyer and filing a paternity suit against the child’s other biological parent. You cannot seek child support for the past six years. 

Some states allow judges to order a parent to pay retroactive child support. For example, Florida allows a judge to order up to 24 months of retroactive child support predating the divorce or paternity filing.

But New Jersey does not allow judges to order retroactive child support.

New Jersey’s Anti-Retroactivity Law

New Jersey law states that a child support order can only have prospective effects. In other words, when a judge orders a parent to pay child support, only future payments are allowed.

The only exception applies to pending actions. A judge can order a parent to make child support payments dating back to the filing of the action for child support

Therefore, if your child’s parent did not make payments while the action was pending, a judge can order them to make payments back to the filing date.

For example, suppose that you filed for divorce in January 2020. If the judge issues the final divorce decree in January 2021, you can request 12 months of “retroactive” child support going back to the filing date of your divorce. 

Back Child Support Is Not Retroactive Child Support

Child support that accrued after the child support order is not retroactive. You can always seek the court’s help in collecting past-due child support payments.

For example, suppose that your divorce decree orders your ex-spouse to pay $500 per month in child support. If your ex-spouse misses six months of child support payments, you can seek the entire amount. 

You can also seek reimbursement for attorney fees you incurred to collect the past-due child support payments.

Avoiding the New Jersey Statute

To avoid losing months or years of child support, you should discuss your situation with a family lawyer. 

If you plan to file a paternity action, filing quickly will ensure your child has financial support from both parents. 

If you have separated in anticipation of a divorce, you should consider entering into a separation agreement that obligates the other parent to pay child support.