How does Michigan law address the issue of child support arrears?

Understanding Child Support Arrears in Michigan

In Michigan, like in all states, both parents have a legal obligation to support their children financially. When a parent does not make timely child support payments, the unpaid amounts are termed 'arrears.' Michigan law has specific guidelines and enforcement mechanisms to address the issue of child support arrears to ensure that children receive the financial support they need.

Enforcement of Child Support Orders

The Friend of the Court (FOC) is responsible for enforcing child support orders in Michigan. If a parent falls behind on payments, several enforcement tools can be used:

Retroactive Modifications Are Not Allowed

It's important to note that in Michigan, a child support order cannot be retroactively modified. This means that if a parent owes back child support, they cannot have the amount they owe reduced by a judge after the fact. Any modifications to the child support order only affect future payments.

The Statute of Limitations for Child Support Arrears

In Michigan, there is a 10-year statute of limitations for collecting on child support arrears from the date when the last payment is due. However, if a parent obtains a judgment for the arrears, that judgment can be renewed and enforced for additional 10-year periods.

Judicial Actions Against Non-Paying Parents

If enforcement measures are not successful, the case may be brought before a judge. The non-paying parent could face contempt charges and even jail time if found in contempt of court for failing to pay child support. However, jail time is generally seen as a last resort as it can further hinder the parent's ability to pay.

Examples from Case Law

Historically, Michigan courts have been firm in enforcing child support obligations. In Serafin v. Serafin, the court held that an attempt to discharge child support debt through bankruptcy was not permissible as child support is considered a domestic obligation which is exempt from discharge under bankruptcy laws.


Michigan law takes child support arrears seriously and has several enforcement tools at its disposal to collect overdue payments. While retroactive modification is not allowed, there are avenues for parents who experience legitimate changes in circumstances to modify future payments. Parents who owe back child support should work with the FOC or seek legal counsel to address their arrears and avoid severe penalties.