The answer to the question “Can I get retroactive child support in Utah?” depends on the circumstances of your situation.
When many people ask if they can get retroactive child support, they are wondering if they can get child support they were supposed to be paid under a child support order but never received. To that question, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.” In Utah, as in most states, child support is considered a judgment as of the day it is due.
Child support payments that are overdue are also referred to as “in arrears” or “back child support.” The statute of limitations for pursuing back child support is the date the youngest child referenced in the order reaches the age of majority, plus four years.
Then there’s the question of whether modifications of a child support order can be made retroactive. Once again, the answer is “yes.” Child support payments in Utah are due on the first day of each month. If you move to modify child support, and the court grants your motion, the modification is effective as of the month following the month that you served the motion to modify on the other parent.
For example: let’s say that you filed your motion to modify child support on March 1 and served the other parent with the motion on the other parent on March 5. The court hears and grants the motion on April 5. Your child support award would be modified retroactive to April 1, because that is the first day of the month after the month the other parent was served.
In Utah, as in other states, a man cannot be ordered to pay child support unless he has been established to be the legal father of the child. If parents are married when a child is born, or the child is born less than 300 days after the marriage ended, the woman’s husband is presumed to be the legal father of her child.
If the child’s parents were not married, paternity must be established before a court or child support enforcement agency will issue a child support order. The mother, father, or child or their representatives can ask the court to establish paternity, as can various governmental agencies. Once paternity is established, child support can be ordered—including retroactive child support.
A paternity action can be filed up until five years after the child’s eighteenth birthday. Does that mean that you can wait until your child turns 22 ½ and then file a motion to establish paternity and request retroactive child support from your child’s birth through the age of eighteen?
No. Utah Code Section 78B-15-109 states, “The obligor's liabilities for past support are limited to the period of four years preceding the commencement of an action.” In other words, if you waited until your child was 22 ½ before trying to establish paternity, you would only be entitled to retroactive child support from the four years prior. Since child support obligations in Utah terminate when a child turns eighteen, you might be able to establish paternity (which is useful for purposes of inheritance), but neither you nor your child would receive a penny in retroactive child support.
Of course, most people don’t wait that long to seek child support when they are raising a child alone. If you have a young child with a co-parent to whom you are not married, you should strongly consider moving to establish paternity and get a court order for child support—including retroactive child support. As any parent knows, children have a lot of needs, including financial needs. Both parents have a legal obligation to support their children. This is not a burden that you should have to bear alone.
Establishing paternity does not, on its own, create an obligation to pay child support. That said, it does open the door for a child support action. Establishing paternity also paves the way for the other parent to seek child custody, parent time, and an ongoing relationship with the child.
If you establish paternity, child support is not the only financial benefit for your child. Should the other parent die while the child is still a minor, your child would be entitled to Social Security and possibly other government benefits as a result of their parent’s death. And, of course, establishing a legal parent-child relationship means that your child would be able to inherit from their other parent under Utah law.
If you have further questions about retroactive child support or establishing paternity in Utah, we invite you to contact Barton Wood to schedule a consultation.