Retroactive Child Support for More Than Five Years Affirmed in Nashville, Tennessee: State ex rel. Robbie B. v. Siva M.

June 10, 2020 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: After a brief relationship, unmarried Mother and Father conceived Child. Father visited Child at Mother’s apartment shortly after she was born in March 2004. A few months later, Father returned to India to care for his ailing father. Before he left, Father gave Mother $1000 to help with Child’s expenses.

While in India, Father communicated with Mother a few times. After a few months, communications ceased after Father entered an arranged marriage.

Father returned to the United States in October 2004, but there was no further contact between him and Mother. He never informed Mother he was back from India and never tried to contact Mother or Child. At trial, Father explained he did not contact them because he was now married.

Tennessee retroactive child supportIn December 2009, Mother contacted Child Support Services to pursue child support, but the agency could not find Father.

In 2014, the 10-year-old Child searched online, found Father, and sent him letters, but he did not respond.

In 2017, Mother contacted Child Support Services again after a friend of hers found Father at the same address Child had previously found online. Mother petitioned to establish Father’s parentage and set child support.

After DNA testing confirmed paternity, Father’s child support was set at $1662 per month. Mother was also awarded support retroactive to December 2009, which amount totaled $155,000, because December 2009 is when she first tried to establish Father’s child-support obligation. Father was ordered to pay the arrearage in monthly installments of $588.

The trial court reasoned, “Father should not be freed from his obligation to pay child support for the time he made himself unavailable to Mother and [Child].”

Father appealed.

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

The law governing retroactive child support, Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-2-311(a)(11)(G), provides that retroactive child support shall not be awarded for over five years from the date the action for child support is filed unless the court finds there is good cause “that a different award of retroactive child support is in the interest of justice.”

Good cause includes, but is not limited to, the noncustodial parent

  • deliberately avoiding service or knowingly impeding the imposition of a child-support obligation,
  • using threats, intimidation, or force to prevent or delay the imposition of a child-support obligation, or
  • the custodial parent reasonably feared that establishing paternity would cause domestic violence.

Once a Tennessee court finds good cause, it may award retroactive support from whatever date it thinks is fair.

Father argued he should not be required to pay over five years of retroactive child support because “good cause” for going beyond five years requires “egregious” conduct. He also faulted Mother for her “intermittent interest in pursuing child support.”

The Court found the evidence supports “good cause” for extending retroactive child support beyond five years:

Both Father’s and Mother’s testimony supports a conclusion that Father knew of [Child’s] existence; that he visited her and gave Mother money before he left for India; that he failed to communicate with or visit Mother and [Child] after August 2004, despite the fact that he returned to [Tennessee] only a few months later: and that Mother and [Child’s] address did not change until 2007. . . . [T]he testimony supports the finding that Father consciously made himself unavailable, thereby providing the factual basis to hold that Mother demonstrated good cause, within the meaning of the statute, to impose Father’s retroactive obligation beyond the initial five-year period. Extending the award retroactively was in the interest of justice and did not cause an injustice to Father.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s award of retroactive child support back to December 2009.

State ex rel. Robbie B. v. Siva M. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, June 3, 2020).

Retroactive Child Support for More Than Five Years Affirmed in Nashville, Tennessee: State ex rel. Robbie B. v. Siva M. was last modified: June 7th, 2020 by K.O. Herston

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