Interest on Child Support Arrearage: State ex rel. Campbell v. Penuel

Facts: When Father and Mother divorced, Father was ordered to pay child support for Child. At various times throughout various post-divorce child support hearings, the trial court found Father owed a child support arrearage in varying amounts. Shortly before Child’s 18th birthday, Father filed a petition to terminate his child support obligation at Child’s impending legal  emancipation. After a hearing, the trial court declared Father’s unpaid child support arrearage to have a principal balance of $19,903.14, ordered a repayment schedule, and waived interest on the arrearage. Mother moved the trial court to reconsider the waiver of interest, which Mother calculated to be $10,089.88, which motion was denied. Mother appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.

Tennessee Code Ann. § 36-5-101 governs decrees for child support in divorce cases and provides in pertinent part:

(f)(1) Any order for child support shall be a judgment entitled to be enforced as any other judgment of a court of this state, and shall be entitled to full faith and credit in this state and in any other state. Such judgment shall not be subject to modification as to any time period or any amounts due prior to the date that an action for modification is filed and notice of the action has been mailed to the last known address of the opposing parties. If the full amount of child support is not paid by the date when the ordered support is due, the unpaid amount is in arrears, shall become a judgment for the unpaid amounts, and shall accrue interest from the date of the arrearage, at the rate of twelve percent (12%) per year. All interest that accumulates on arrearages shall be considered child support. Computation of interest shall not be the responsibility of the clerk.

The Court has previously found the italicized language excerpted above “is clearly mandatory regarding the accrual of interest on arrearages” such that the failure to assess interest was reversible error.

As the Court noted, in this case it was curious that the trial court did not make findings of fact or otherwise explain why it waived interest on the arrearage. (Query: Does this reference leave open the possibility that interest on a child support arrearage might be waivable pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-5-101(e)(1)(A)?)

The Court found “no basis in the record to depart from the statutory requirement.” Accordingly, the trial court was reversed. The case was remanded to the trial court with instructions to assess 12% interest on the child support arrearage.

Another curiosity is the fact that Father did not file a brief in opposition to Mother’s appeal. As Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

State ex rel. Campbell v. Penuel (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, January 20, 2012).

Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Matrimonial, Divorce and Family Law Attorney.

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K.O. Herston is a family-law attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee whose practice is devoted exclusively to family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, and other aspects of family law.

2 thoughts on “Interest on Child Support Arrearage: State ex rel. Campbell v. Penuel

  1. My sons father has about $11,200 in arrears. So i can get 12% interest on this for however long it takes him to pay this? And what can i do if hes (self-employed) and doesnt pay or file his taxes. How will the goverment ever catch him? And if he marries does their tax refund gi towards arrears?

  2. Tennessee is a little behind. Unfortunately due to all the other non-paying fathers, it causes a backlog of issues. Nashville Davidson County does not prosecute unless they have contact with the father. If he dodges them, doesn’t hold a job and has a floating address, he will remain in limbo. Such is the case with me as mine owes over 50k.

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