During several divorce, paternity or child support cases, a long period of time can elapse between the filing of the petition and when the court enters its final judgment and order. It is quite common for cases to last 18+ months, particularly in contested cases. Knowing this, parties will often string a case out as long as possible to push off any financial obligations. The typical counter response to this strategy is to file a motion pendente lite (aka “PDL motion”) seeking custody, support and/or maintenance in an effort to preserve the status quo pending a final determination on the merits.
The Court, however, is not limited to pendente lite relief to accommodate the gap between when a case starts and finishes. Under Section 452.340, RSMo, a court may award retroactive child support to the date of the filing of the petition.To give an example, say a case has been pending 14 months and the court enters an order of $500 per month in child support at the end. The court can make the award retroactive by order the paying spouse to pay $500 for each of the preceding 14 months.
The court has considerable discretion in making child support awards retroactive, and its judgment will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. Wenger v. Wenger, 876 S.W.2d 735, 740 (Mo. Ct. App. 1994). While retroactive child support is authorized by statute, it is not mandatory. Nelson v. Nelson, 25 S.W.3d 511, 524 (Mo. Ct. App. 2000). Based on experience, Judges are inclined to order retroactive child support after considering the following factors: (a) the length of time between the filing of the petition and court’s decree, (b) whether the children’s needs are being met, (c) conduct of the parents’ during the case and (d) the earning capacity of each spouse.
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