Retroactive Child Support Awards

In most states, initial child support awards may be made retroactive to the date of filing and modifications may be retroaction to the date a modification is requested. In some states, retroactivity is mandatory, and in others, it is discretionary.

Initial Awards

Most of the time, the first child support award is made retroactive from the date of filing. In some states, a child support award may be retroactive to a period prior to the petition for support. If the mother received welfare benefits, child support may be awarded retroactively to the date benefits were first paid. Any payments made between the effective date of the child support order and the date the court makes a determination of support will be credited against any retroactive amount found to be due. In California, an order for child support may be made retroactive to the date of filing, but if the parent ordered to pay support was not served within 90 days and he did not evade service, the order may not be effective before the date he was served. In Florida, an order of support may be retroactive to the date the parties separated, but no more than 24 months prior to the filing of the petition. In Indiana, an award may be retroactive to the date of the child’s birth.

It is often the case that the first child support award is a temporary award, made before the parties have been able to fully discover all of the income of the parents and expenses of the child. In such cases, when child support is finally determined, there is a reluctance to alter the amount owed while the temporary order was in effect, particularly where the parent who pays child support has met his or her obligation. However, where there is a significant difference in the amount of support or if a parent had intentionally hidden or reduced his or her income, a tribunal may award a retroactive increase.


When a court modifies an award of child support, it may make the award retroactive to the date that a modification was requested, but it cannot go beyond that date. It is within the discretion of the tribunal as to whether to make the award fully or partially retroactive to the date of filing. In some states, a person seeking modification must present evidence demonstrating why the order should be retroactive to the date of filing. In other states, retroactivity is presumed, unless the court is decreasing the amount of support.

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