Facts: Mother and Father are the unmarried parents of Child. The parents never resided together. Child has lived with Mother since birth.
When Child was five years old, Mother filed a petition to establish Father’s child support obligation.
After a hearing, the trial court established Father’s ongoing child support obligation.
The trial court also determined that Father’s retroactive child support obligation dating back to Child’s birth was $41,743. The trial court further found Father voluntarily paid child support to Mother totaling $84,275 during the retroactive time period. Because of this, the trial court held Father did not owe any retroactive child support.
Father sought a judgment for the $42,532 overpayment of child support. The trial court denied Father’s request.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
Father argued he is entitled to a judgment for overpayment of child support. Father relied on Huffman v. Huffman, where the obligor was paying a court-ordered child support obligation the trial court later determined was too high. As a result, the obligor in Huffman was entitled to a judgment for the amount of the overpayment.
After reviewing the record, the Court distinguished this case from Huffman, explaining:
[I]n this case all of Father’s payments to Mother were voluntary rather than the result of a court order. Until January 2009, Father was not ordered to pay any child support to Mother. Instead, he voluntarily and freely decided to contribute more than he was ultimately obligated to pay to support his child. Under such circumstances, this court has held that the obligor parent was not entitled to a judgment for overpayment. Accordingly, Father is not entitled to a judgment for overpayment of child support.
Accordingly, the trial court was affirmed.
K.O.’s Comment: If the child support obligor overpays pursuant to a court order, the obligor is entitled a judgment for the amount of the overpayment. If the obligor overpays voluntarily, then — to quote the late Don Paine, Esq. — that falls into the category of “tough.” This holding is consistent with cases involving the necessaries rule. For example, in Peycheck v. Rutherford, the Court held that, under the necessaries rule, the credit is limited to the amount of the child support arrearage; anything voluntarily paid beyond the amount owed is not recoverable.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce and Family Law Attorney.