Anyone who's been through a child support dispute knows that it's a long and bumpy ride, fraught with delays and adjournments. One of the most common consequences of support disputes are the arrears that accrue as a result of retroactive support. Let's say, for example, that a mother initially had custody of her child, with the father paying court-ordered child support. Some years later, the child ends up having to live with the father, so the father seeks a termination of his support order, while also filing a support order against the mother made retroactive to the filing date of the motion. Once the mother is ordered to pay support, the courts will calculate the arrears accrued during the proceedings, and break it down into increments that will be paid on top of each support payment.
Paying the additional increments may not be an issue, but the arrears being reported to major credit agencies can be devastating to one's credit score. A technical reading of N.J.S.A. 2A: 17-56.21(a) and (b) would indicate that child support arrears should be reported to credit agencies as late or missed payments. The problem with that is that the obligor was in the midst of an on-going support dispute, during which time he or she would not have been responsible for the accruals. Hence, the arrears did not arise from a violation of a court order, nor are they technically delinquent payments. This issue was addressed by the court in cases like Cameron v. Cameron, in which the court stated, “a debtor may owe money without being delinquent... It is only when payments are missed or late beyond a certain predetermined date and established due dates and deadlines that the term 'delinquency' beings to apply.”
The court furthermore addressed the devastating impact such information can have on one's credit score, and how it disrupts one ability to live a decent quality of life. Thus, “when a court of equity imposes a retroactive child support obligation resulting from a newly assessed arrears upon a party, the court must also logically have the equitable discretion to direct the probation department to not report such arrears to the credit reporting bureaus unless and until further notice.” Another important aspect of this ruling is the recommendation to extend this policy to other penalties resulting from arrears not arising from a court order violation, such as suspension of driving privileges. That's a particularly important one for parents, who typically need to drive to work in order to earn money towards their support obligations. If you are a parent in this situation, it's imperative that you consult an attorney about your rights and legal options. The ruling in Cameron allows you to fight the reporting of such information, but getting it removed once it's been reported is a complicated process. For more information on how your credit score may be effected by existing support obligations, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.