Reducing Back-Owed Child Support and Child Support Arrears to Judgment in Colorado
Under Colorado law, back-owed child support, also known as child support arrears, can be reduced to judgment allowing the person owed child support to passively pursue the debt. Once the judgment has been entered, the person owed child support may attempt to collect on the debt as if it were a normal judgment. Accordingly, the judgment may be attached to property owned by the debtor as a lien, and can be used to garnish the debtor’s wages bank accounts. Notably, the actual process of reducing child support arrears to judgment in Colorado is relatively simple and only requires the filing a verified entry of support judgment motion.
Legal Requirements for Reducing Back-Owed Child Support and Child Support Arrears to Judgment
Reducing back-owed child support to judgment in Colorado is governed by Colorado Revised Statute (“C.R.S.”) § 14-10-122(1)(c). Specifically, the statute indicates that a child support payment become a final money judgment when it is due and owing and not paid. Accordingly, any child support payments that are missed are automatically considered judgments owed to the receiving party. Thus, reducing missed payments to judgment is a formality that allows the court to officially enter an order indicating the amount owed to the receiving party. The entered judgment can then be enforced through the various mechanisms available for enforcement of traditional monetary judgments, including reporting the judgment to credit agencies, pursuing writs of garnishment, and recording the judgment as a lien on real property.
In reducing child support arrears to judgment, the only real requirement is that the party owed the money file a verified entry of support judgment with the court that entered the child support order. In effect, the verified entry of support judgment is a motion stating the amount of money owed and requesting the court enter a corresponding judgment. Notably, since unpaid child support payments are technically considered a judgment when the payment is missed, the filing of a verified entry of support functions as a judgment revival of all missed child support payments within the relevant statute of limitations.
Along these lines, Colorado law provides that revivals and executions of a judgment must take place within 20 years of the judgment occurring. Accordingly, a verified entry of support judgment may only extend back 20 years and reduce to judgment child support arrears owed within 20 years of the verified entry of support judgment’s filing date. See C.R.C.P. 54(h); C.R.S. § 13-52-102(2)(a) (indicating a 20 year statutory time period to execute a judgment). See also In re Marriage of Johnson and Johnson, 380 P.3d 150 (Colo. 2016).
Importantly, Colorado law provides for a higher statutory interest rate for child support arrearages than normal monetary judgments. In particular, while the statutory interest rate for traditional judgments issued in Colorado is set at 8%, the interest rate for child support arrearages is set at 12% and is compounded monthly. See C.R.S. § 14-14-106. Further, since child support payments are considered judgments at the time they are due and owing, any unpaid child support payments begin accruing interest as soon as they are late. That is, child support judgments do not need to be reduced to judgment before they start accruing interest; instead, a verified entry of support judgment motion may include interest that has already been accruing. Because of the higher interest rate, child support arrearages can pose a serious issue if left unaddressed as the unpaid interest can end up far exceeding the amount actually owed, sometimes in the realm of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Lastly, if a verified entry of support judgment is filed, no notice to the other party needs to be made nor does a hearing need to be conducted before the court enters the judgment. Because child support arrears are already considered judgments at the time they are late, the other party is already on notice of their child support obligations and no notification of the arrears being reduced to judgment is required. See Jenner v. Jenner, 330 P.2d 544 (Colo. 1958); Burke v. Burke, 255 P.2d 740 (Colo. 1953). See also C.R.S. § 14-10-122(1)(c).
Case Law Regarding Reducing Back-Owed Child Support and Arrears to Judgment
Importantly, while the primary constraint on recovering child support arrears themselves is the 20 year statute of limitations time period, recovering the interest that accrues on those arrears can be subject to additional constraints. More specifically, because child support payments are, at least in theory, supposed to accrue to the children and, thus, belong to the children and not their parents, equitable defenses do not apply to child support arrears. However, because interest on child support arrears accrues to the parents, equitable defenses such as laches may apply to the interest. Laches is an equitable defense whereby a party waives there right to proceed with or pursue a claim by virtue of waiting too long.
Thus, a person owing child support will ultimately be responsible for child support arrears accrued within the 20 year statute of limitations time period; however, the person may not be responsible for interest accrued on those payments depending on the specific circumstances of each situation. If a court finds that the party who is owed child support waited too long to reduce the arrears to judgment or otherwise engaged in actions that waived their right to interest on those arrears, the party owing child support will be relieved of any interest obligations. Importantly, whether or not laches applies is determined on a case -by-case basis and is dependent on the particular facts of each case. See In re Marriage of Johnson and Johnson, 380 P.3d 150 (Colo. 2016).
© 2017 J.D. Porter, LLC. Author: Jordan Porter. Denver, Colorado.