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Navigating Child Support in Florida: Understanding Arrears and Retroactive Payments

Posted by LEISA WINTZ | Apr 14, 2024 | 0 Comments

Family Matters on Sundays Episode 11 highlighted the difference between arrears and retroactive payments. These terms are often confused or misunderstood, yet they carry significantly different implications for parents involved in child support cases. Let's delve deeper into what these terms mean, how they're calculated, and the impact they can have on both parents and children.

Breaking Down Child Support Arrears and Retroactive Payments

Child Support Arrears Explained: Child support arrears occur when there's an existing court order for child support payments, and the obligated parent fails to make those payments. These overdue payments accumulate over time and can lead to legal consequences, such as contempt of court. It's crucial for parents to understand that arrears represent a failure to comply with a legal obligation, hence the seriousness attributed to them in familial legal settings.

Retroactive Child Support:Retroactive child support, on the other hand, refers to the child support that should have been paid during a period before the support order was established, up to a maximum of 24 months prior to the filing of a petition. As Nazarena explained, this calculation considers the child support that a parent should have been receiving had the guidelines been in place, but weren't due to a lack of a court order. Notably, retroactive child support is not enforceable through contempt, since there was no prior court directive to disobey.

Understanding the Calculation of Retroactive Child Support

The Complexity of Calculation: Calculating retroactive child support isn't as straightforward as applying current child support guidelines to the past 24 months. It's essential to consider various factors that could have changed during that time, including income levels, healthcare costs, and time-sharing arrangements. These recalculations can further complicate if one's income is difficult to determine due to self-employment or other factors.

Equitable Considerations in Calculations: Courts have discretion in making equitable decisions when it comes to retroactive child support. For instance, if one parent prevented the other from having access to the child, the court might consider this when determining the retroactive amount. This emphasizes the court's role in assuring fairness and reasonableness in child support matters.

Proactive Steps and Strategic Considerations

The Value of Paying Interim Amounts: Both Leisa and Nazarena stress the importance of making some form of payments if you anticipate owing support, even before a court order is in place. Not only does this demonstrate good faith but it can also reduce the retroactive support owed. Keep excellent records of these payments to ensure they're recognized by the court.

Understanding the Limitations: It's also vital to grasp the limitations of child support modifications. You cannot reduce your obligation for a first child based on responsibilities for a subsequent child. The law prioritizes the financial needs of all children equally, and additional responsibilities do not diminish existing ones.

Final Considerations and Court Proceedings

When to Calculate Retroactive Support: Many details, including retroactive support and attorney fees, are best left for final hearings or mediation settlements. Attempting to resolve these matters during temporary child support hearings can be premature, as not all the necessary information may be available at that early stage.


Understanding the distinct differences between child support arrears and retroactive support is crucial for parents navigating family law proceedings in Florida. Recognizing the factors that contribute to these calculations and taking proactive steps to manage child support responsibilities can help smooth out what might otherwise be a turbulent legal process. As always, consulting with a knowledgeable family law attorney can provide invaluable guidance tailored to one's individual circumstances.

If you are dealing with child support in Florida we offer DIY Coaching, Advice & Strategy Sessions and full representation - get in touch to schedule your strategy session and find out what options we can provide in your price range. Get in touch now 954.904.1020

Our firm offers free consultations with our Senior paralegal or a $250 strategy session with Leisa or Nazarena. If you hire us, we credit this towards your fees.
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About the Author


Leisa Wintz originally began her career as a marriage and family therapist. Ms. Wintz went on to attend law school and started practicing family law in 2009. However, she quickly realized that many family law practices lacked the empathy and compassion she believed were necessary in order to achi...


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