Facts: Mother and Father were divorced in 2002. In 2006, Father petitioned to modify his child support obligation. After the trial court ruled, Father successfully appealed. On remand, a different trial judge modified Father’s child support obligation and made it retroactive to the date of filing, i.e., 2006. This resulted in a finding that Father had overpaid his child support by $39,015. The trial court ruled the overpayment did not have to be paid back, stating:
It is, however, not economically viable to order Mother to repay this overage to Father. Father shall, therefore, not be granted a judgment in the amount of the overpayment…. This Court also acknowledges that this unfairly harms Father, in that he cannot collect on his overpayments. However, Mother also suffers harm, as her child support is drastically lowered. Neither party is to blame for the overpayment of child support, it is simply a function of the judicial process.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.
Father argued the trial court erred in failing to give him a credit or judgment in the amount of his overpayment.
Although not directly on point, Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-5-101(g)(5)(D)(iv), which governs modifications in Title IV-D child support cases, states, in relevant part:
If the modified payment amount is lower than the payment amount required prior to the modification, then the obligor shall be given credit for such amount against future payments of support for the remaining children under the order.
Father cited several cases to support his argument that the trial court erred in failing to award a judgment for the amount of his overpayment. The Court agreed with Father, writing:
We are not aware of any authority that allows the trial court to exercise its discretion to forgive one party from reimbursing another for an overpayment of child support. The trial court’s failure to award Father a credit or judgment in the amount of his overpayment resulted in an “injustice” to Father. Based on our review of the record, we conclude that under the circumstances presented here, the trial court abused its discretion in failing to award Father a judgment for the amount he overpaid child support over the six years this case was pending. Thus, we reverse the trial court’s order to the extent it held Father was not entitled to a judgment, and we remand the case for the trial court to fashion an appropriate repayment schedule for Mother to reimburse Father.
Accordingly, the trial court was reversed.
K.O.’s Comment: In a footnote, the Court commented: “We recognize that this is the second appeal in this case, but six years is a long time for a child support case to be pending.” No kidding. This unusual length of time is what made the arrearage so large and, therefore, “not economically viable” for Mother to repay.
This also raises an interesting question: If Father had underpaid his child support, mandatory interest of 12% would have accrued pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-5-101(f)(1). Now that Father is entitled to a judgment for the overpayment of child support, is he entitled to interest on the principal balance? I do not see why not. But I think the interest rate that applies to all other judgments that are not child support arrearages, i.e., the rate provided by Tennessee Code Annotated § 47-14-122, will likely apply. If any readers are aware of any controlling authority on point, please share it in the comments.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.