Going to court is nearly always a scary thing—usually, someone is trying to get some money out of you. Arkansas family court is even scarier because you’ve got both money and relationships at stake. Words like “alimony,” “full custody,” or “relocation” are a guaranteed recipe for ulcers and sleep loss and all sorts of other court-induced misery.
Here’s one term that many people aren’t familiar with but should probably be at the top of the list: “Retroactive child support.” As you might have guessed, this is child support that is calculated backwards. So just how far back can an Arkansas Child Support judge go?
Here’s where it gets really scary. Like—this is the Arkansas family law equivalent of the point where the music reaches a screeching crescendo and a man with a knife jumps out from behind a door.
Under Arkansas child support law, a judge can award child support all the way back to a child’s birth.
And it doesn’t matter whether you knew you had a child. It doesn’t matter if mom knew where you were but decided to hide your kid from you. An Arkansas child support obligation is an obligation to the child, so neither your ignorance nor mom’s behavior matters.
You can imagine how nightmarish a situation this could be. It’s not uncommon (although, as a family lawyer, I would not recommend it) to meet someone in a bar, hook up, and never hear from the person again.
Now, imagine not hearing from the person for 12 years and then receiving notice that she has opened a case with Arkansas Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE). Now you may be on the hook for child support for those 12 years of blissful, presumed-but-incorrect childlessness.
So what can you do? At the risk of sounding too preachy, I’ll simply point out that you can, of course, avoid the situation altogether and not hook up with strangers. But if that’s no longer an option, you may think about one of these options (recognizing all the while that I’m not your attorney and you’re not my client and this isn’t legal advice and even if it was legal advice, it would be foolish to take legal advice from a stranger on the internet):
1. Request a paternity test. Most Arkansas OCSE attorneys will let you have one just because you asked. If not, you may have to request one from the Court.
2. Ignore it and hope it goes away. This is always a very bad idea.
3. Make an equitable argument that mom sat on her rights and shouldn’t be able to enforce them now. This is called “laches” in Arkansas family law (and the law in general). It shouldn’t technically work, but it’s worth a shot.
4. If mom intentionally concealed the existence of the child, you might be able to counterclaim against her for fraud. This wouldn’t directly get rid of your child support, but it might reduce it or, more likely, get you some money out of mom.
5. Request that the retroactive portion of the Arkansas child support be set at the minimum amount. It’s unlikely that you’ve always made the money that you currently make, so it’s not reasonable to set retroactive child support at your current wage. Here is the Arkansas Family Support Chart.
Whatever you do, it’s best to do it now rather than later.