When the Children Turn 18–Who Can Collect Child Support Arrearages?

For a variety of reasons, some parents don’t try to collect unpaid child support.  Or maybe they try to collect and eventually give up — again for a variety of reasons.  That’s really a personal issue between the parents so long as the custodial parent is adequately supporting the child.

But children grow up and ask questions.  When a child either is legally emancipated or reaches the age of majority, they may learn that there is a substantial child support arrearage owed on their behalf.  Does the adult child have an enforcement/collection claim against the deadbeat parent?  In Florida, the answer is yes.  Florida courts recognize the adult child or emancipated child’s right to collect the support arrearage on their own behalf.

Florida courts also acknowledge the non-deadbeat parent’s ongoing right to bring an enforcement/collection action against the deadbeat parent after the child becomes a legal adult. This is the more common approach.  What happens if both the former custodial parent of the adult child and the adult child each bring separate enforcement/collection actions against the deadbeat parent?   Some courts will not allow the adult child’s claim if the parent is also making the same claim.  Others will, but allow only a single recovery from the deadbeat parent.  Assuming the deadbeat parent is found to owe a child support arrearage by the court, who should have first dibs on the money?  The single parent who provided for the child when the other parent didn’t — or the adult child who was deprived of their parent’s financial support as a child.

My vote goes to the single parent who essentially carried the entire financial burden of raising the child to adulthood.  That parent deserves to be repaid the deadbeat parent’s share of those childrearing expenses.  If the adult child receives the arrearage payment, the adult child is essentially receiving a financial windfall at the expense of their supporting parent.   This, to me, violates basic concepts of fairness and equity.

Does the deadbeat parent have any possible defense against a child support arrearage action brought by the adult child or parent of the adult child?  Not really.  Child support arrearages never go away.  They can even be claimed against a deceased parent’s estate.  Nor will bringing the claim years after the child reaches adulthood necessarily handicap the claim.  Florida courts don’t generally allow the passage of time as a defense in child support arrearage cases.  A deadbeat parent would have to prove extraordinary circumstances where the facts clearly show extreme prejudice from the delay in bringing the action. This is not likely to happen in most cases.

There are even private collection agencies that may assist you in child support arrearage collections for a fee.   If you are interested in pursuing enforcement/collection of a child support arrearage as an adult child or as the parent of an adult child, your best bet is to first consult with an experienced family lawyer to learn if you have a valid claim.

The Law Office of Jeanne Coleman has helped Tampa Bay families with child support issues for more than twenty-five years.  Jeanne is a highly skilled family lawyer with broad knowledge regarding the resources available for collection of child support arrearages.  Call her office today for a free twenty-minute consultation.  Jeanne also provides legal consultation and services in dependency and social security disability matters.

Law Office of Jeanne Coleman: 813-253-2820

404 South Howard Ave. Tampa, FL 33606

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