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What is the Difference Between Arrears and Retroactive Child Support?

Arrears and retroactive child support are two categories of child support a non-custodial parent might owe to the custodial parent. When seeking to collect child support still owed to you, it is important to understand the differences between these two categories.

Here is a brief overview.

Retroactive child support

The term “retroactive child support” refers to how much money an obligor owes to the custodial parent before the court decides to issue a support order. The court will often hold the parent who owes money responsible for paying child support, starting from the date on which there was a request for a child support order which is typically the date an application is made. In a divorce action, you can seek support retroactive to the date the action for the divorce was commenced..

It can take some time for judges to issue a final support order, so retroactive child support makes sure that the time between the request and that final order is considered when paying out child support.


The obligor is responsible for paying the full amount of child support ordered every month, otherwise they are in “arrears.” Arrears may also be referred to as “back child support,” the difference between what the parent is supposed to pay and what they actually paid. The amount of money owed can accrue interest at high rates (9 percent or more).

Whenever any amount of arrears accrues, the custodial parent has the right to seek enforcement of the order. The longer the obligor is in arrears, the more they will owe with interest added.

For more information about child support order enforcement, contact an experienced divorce lawyer at Jakubowski, Robertson, Maffei, Goldsmith & Tartaglia LLP.